Hughes: Ming is an excellent leader

Menzies Campbell is a leader of “courage, style and substance” and the Liberal Democrats must support him “loudly and clearly”, Simon Hughes has said.

The party president stood against Sir Menzies in the race to succeed Charles Kennedy earlier this year, and was reported this week as saying he only backed the Lib Dem leader’s new tax plans because of a whip imposed on the front bench team.

But in his speech to the Lib Dem conference in Brighton this morning, Mr Hughes stated his “unambiguous” support for the new party leader and urged members to do the same.

“I reaffirm my unchanging view and the party’s belief that Ming is an excellent, principled and credible leader,” he said.

“He will in all his days of office be fully recognised and appreciated not just as a leader of courage, a leader of style, but always a leader of substance. And we need to say that loudly and clearly.”

Sir Menzies will make his first speech to conference as leader tomorrow, but despite the boost to his authority by winning the vote over the party’s new tax proposals, commentators will be looking to see if he is better received than Mr Kennedy.

The former Lib Dem leader, who quit in January over concerns about his drinking, received a minute-long standing ovation after his speech yesterday.

This morning Paddy Ashdown, who was leader before Mr Kennedy, praised the way Sir Menzies had handled conference so far, which included a probing question and answer session in front of members on Monday.

“He’s done something which the party’s been longing for for some time – he’s given the party a lead,” Mr Ashdown told Today.

He said Sir Menzies had been instrumental in persuading members to adopt the new tax plans, which include scrapping the 50p top rate of tax.

“We’ve taken a position which is courageous, in my view far-sighted and well ahead of events, and the person who’s responsible for that is Ming,” he said.

“He’s undoubtedly shown that he is the leader of this party, that he is prepared to lead from the front, that he’s prepared to take risks and that he wins and that’s pretty good in my view.”