Meanwhile, in a disastrous turn for the party as the May elections draw ever closer (and a by-election in Scotland is closer still), the Liberal Democrat vote has dropped 3% on the month - the lowest since 2001 and well down on the average of 22% that the party has averaged since (Times/Populous). That may not be the full impact, as the fieldwork was undertaken across the weekend, with some before Chuckie threw in the towel. Half of those questioned thought that Charlie was right to fight to stay on as leader and the poll was fairly evenly divided on whether either being an alcoholic or lying about it were sufficient grounds for him to go, although coming down on his side on both occasions. The public did turn against him on the question of whether he had run out of steam, 41%/35% in favour of him resigning - although less than a quarter of Lib Dem voters agreed. He was still rated as a better leader than Howard was, despite the poor stories about his drink problem. The vanishing Lib Dem vote has divided itself between the Tories, Labour and the Green party.
So, we've got the Minger, the soporific and uninspiring Oaten and the spectre of Hughes still haunting this feast - more news from him is due on Thursday. The conventional wisdom and the betting gives the contest to 'Two Jags' Campbell and this remains the probable outcome, but I'd put a small amount on Hughes - his support amongst the membership could be decisive. Campbell is also vulnerable to accusations from Kennedy loyalists that he led the campaign to dump Chatshow.
Meanwhile, what of the big man himself? John Hemming's campaign to campaign gathers pace as it heads downhill. Some national papers still regard his leadership bid as a joke, for reasons best known to them, leading to a short piece in the Guardian Diary where a Liberal Democrat recalls that
that on a previous occasion, when Hemming tried but failed to get elected to parliament, other Lib Dems exclaimed: "We've won, we've won."
I find that so hard to believe. John's ever watchful staff have realised that simply having bits of paper with names and numbers on them isn't sufficient to nominate a leader, so are now desperately trying to get the formal nomination papers out to members who have already expressed their support. There is an intriguing paragraph on the blog indicating the path that John plans to take:
'It remains, of course, that I may have some difficulties getting the backing from MPs. However, we still have a fortnight for that. Once I have support from the constituencies there is a solid case that I should be allowed to stand because the members want me to stand.' [Emphasis added]
Seasoned readers will remember John's attempts at the LD conference this year to stop the constitutional change that imposed a 10% minimum level on nominations from Lib Dem MPs. Anyone care to bet on whether he has the lawyers ready to roll? The sight of an MP taking his own party to court might be one of the more entertaining contests of the year, although it probably won't improve his chances of winning. Disturbing rumours reach me that John may face more serious problems closer to home, but I'm sure that's just tittle-tattle.