SENIOR Lib-Dems in Kirklees were surprised by their party leader’s resignation.
Sir Menzies Campbell stood down on Monday after less than two years.
Meanwhile the battle to succeed him was gathering pace today, with at least one leading contender for the leadership expected to announce a bid.
Clr Kath Pinnock, who leads the Lib- Dems on Kirklees Council, said of the resignation: “I think it was a surprise to everyone. We had a democratic vote to choose him only 18 months ago and I expected him to last the course.”
She paid tribute to Sir Menzies, saying: “I think it’s a personal tragedy for him. He’s a man of huge integrity who made his decision in the interests of the party. You don’t see that selflessness in politics very often.’’
Clr Pinnock admitted that consistent comments about the 66-year-old’s age had been damaging.
She said: “The other political parties and the media went on endlessly about his age. It was relentless and it wasn’t going to go away.
“Ronald Reagan became President of the US in his seventies, yet for some reason we can’t have a party leader who’s in his sixties. It’s ironic that at the same time as we have all this ageism against Ming we’re all being told we’ll have to work longer.”
Nominations for the leadership are open until October 31. Ballot papers will be sent to party members three weeks later and the result announced on December 17.
Clr Pinnock, who represents Cleckheaton on Kirklees, isn’t endorsing any candidate as yet. But she did have positive words for Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg, who many expect to stand.
Clr Pinnock said: “I think people will find him an attractive candidate because he’s from Yorkshire and understands the particular issues here.”
The Lib-Dems’ deputy leader on Kirklees had also not expected Sir Menzies to resign.
Clr John Smithson said: “My first reaction was surprise. Then I thought it was very noble and brave decision taken in the best interests of the party.
“Sadly his age had been a big issue.’’
The Almondbury councillor does not believe instability at the top will harm the Lib-Dems locally. He said: “It won’t affect the party in Kirklees and we now have an exciting leadership contest to look forward to.”
Clr Smithson also refused to suggest anyone for the top job. He said: “I won’t decide until I see who’s standing, but I would like to see a female candidate.”