Lib Dems already weary of old-man Ming

With all media interest focused on the Blair-Brown soap opera, the traumas facing Sir Menzies Campbell and the Liberal Democrats have passed almost unnoticed.

Thankfully we can always rely on Simon Hughes, the reliably maverick Lib Dem MP, to stir things up. He helpfully told journalists this week that it was 'unfair' for colleagues to criticise their new leader after such a short space of time, and that Ming should instead be 'judged after the party conference' in the autumn. Now, in Westminster-speak this means Ming has been an unmitigated disaster, and if he doesn't pull his socks up soon he will be facing a leadership challenge.

The recent leadership election toppled the Lib Dems' 'nice party' image - an image likely to get a further battering as the party's MPs begin to realise they made a duff decision.

To be fair, some realised this at the time, but plumped for the ageing Ming for the same reason the Cardinals voted for an old Pope. It meant that sooner rather than later they would have a chance of becoming leader themselves. My local MP in Inverness, Danny Alexander, is just one of those young turks. He was also one of those who also claimed loyalty to Charles Kennedy, unlike plenty of others.

One influential Lib Dem MP even told me this week: 'Ming will be gone by the end of the year.' The same source also revealed that Ming was so exhausted by the job that by six in the evening he was finished for the day.

Certainly, Ming's performances in the House of Commons during PMQs have been lamentable. This has only fuelled the current backbiting - all leaders of the third party have found this aspect of the job difficult, but some have done better than others. Yet there is a wider PR challenge here: the Tories have stolen all the Lib Dems' clothes. In a quite deliberate and clever strategy, David Cameron has focused almost exclusively on their traditional issues: surely one of the reasons that the yellows failed to make many gains in the recent local elections.

Worse still, the one good reason for choosing Campbell as leader - his consistent opposition to the Iraq War - is fast becoming irrelevant as this ceases to be a major issues with voters.

Many Lib Dem activists now regret what happened to Kennedy, but those who knifed him in the back are poised to strike again. This time, expect the new leader to be a little closer in age to Cameron - and the smart money is on Nick Clegg.

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