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Search for Lib Dem leader begins

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The Liberal Democrats are beginning the process of searching for their third leader in less than two years.

Sir Menzies Campbell resigned as leader of the party last night, after only 22 months in charge and following a tumultuous few months.

The 66-year-old, who succeeded Charles Kennedy in 2006, did not announce the resignation himself, with party president Simon Hughes making the revelation at the Lib Dems' headquarters in Westminster instead.

The media have focused on the suggestion that Sir Menzies was forced out by Lib Dem colleagues after poor showings in recent polls and continued uncertainty about his age.

Local government's warm tribute

The party's Local Government Association group leader Richard Kemp has written a warm tribute to the former party leader.

In it, Cllr Kemp thanks Sir Menzies on behalf of his party’s 4,450 councillors for bringing stability to the party and starting the process of reforming the party’s "interminable" internal procedures for policy making and campaigning.

Menzies 'stood for best in British'

Cllr Kemp recognises that Sir Menzies "stood for all that is best in British - politics decency, integrity and liberalism".

He said: “I think it a matter for regret that your age was continually brought up. When one considers it is the elderly who continue to vote in the highest numbers one wonders what they are thinking about how their generation is being depicted as incompetent and incapable”.

Turning to the upcoming leadership election, Cllr Kemp said: "The LGA group will not support any particular candidate, but will provide a platform for all confirmed candidates to make clear their views on localism and other matters which affect councils and councillors”.

And Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors chief executive Tim Pickstone added: "Ming Campbell was a great friend of Liberal Democrats in local government and I know how hard he worked to support local campaigners during his time as party leader.

Sir Menzies 'fulfilled his objectives'

In his resignation letter, which was made public after the announcement by Mr Hughes, Sir Menzies said he had "fulfilled" the three objectives he had when taking over the party.

"First, to restore stability and purpose in the party following my predecessor's resignation and the leadership campaign itself, second to make the internal operations of the party more professional and third to prepare the party for a general election," he said.

But he added that it had now "become clear" that following prime minister Gordon Brown's decision not to hold an early general election, "questions about leadership are getting in the way of further progress by the party".

Possible contenders

Environment spokesman Chris Huhne and home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg are expected to be among the contenders in the race to succeed Sir Menzies.

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