Clegg gathers support in Lib Dem leadership contest

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The race to succeed Sir Menzies Campbell as leader of the Liberal Democrats gathered pace today as Chris Huhne launched his campaign.

Mr Huhne, 56, made a bid for left-leaning votes among the estimated 70,000 party members, saying:

“We need a Liberal party that appeals to those concerned about social justice.”

As several potential leadership candidates today announced they would not be standing it looks increasing likely that Nick Clegg will be the only other challenger for the leadership.

He is expected to launch his campaign tomorrow.

Mr Clegg has only been an MP since 2005 so couldn’t have voted for most LGBT equality legislation but did vote in favour of outlawing discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment. But he was absent from votes on the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

The Evening Standard reported today that Mr Clegg, 40, has already got the support of nearly half of the present Lib Dem frontbench team, among them David Laws, Danny Alexander and Alistair Carmichael.

While he is the bookies favourite, some in the party are concerned that he is “Cameron-lite” and has not established what he stands for.

Others argue that a young, charismatic, English leader is vital to neutralise the threat from the resurgent Conservative party to Lib Dem seats in London and the South.

Former leader Charles Kennedy, who was ousted in January 2006 after press reports about his alcoholism, told the BBC today that he is not a candidate.

Acting leader Vince Cable also announced he would not stand, as did Susan Kramer and Ed Davey.

Left-wing MP Steve Webb may still enter the race. The deadline for nominations is 31st October.

Lib Dem members will be sent ballot papers on November 21st, and they must be returned by 15th December.

The winner will be announced on Monday 17th December.