The BBC commissioned a new ICM poll on Ming Campbell for Wednesday’s Newsnight. It asked five questions, three on which party was strongest on particular issues – the economy, crime and the environment. These followed the normal pattern – Labour continue to be seen as the strongest party on the economy (31% thought Labour were strongest, compared to 25% the Tories and 11% the Lib Dems), the Conservatives continue to lead on crime (by 33% to 25% for Labour and 10% for the Lib Dems) and the Lib Dems just marginally preferred on the environment (by 20% to 19% for Labour and 16% for the Tories).

The other two questions focused on Menzies Campbell’s leadership. Asked if three presumed party leaders at the next election had the qualities needed to be Prime Minister, 41% thought that David Cameron had those qualities, 37% thought Gordon Brown had those qualities and only 24% thought Menzies Campbell did.

There are two ways of looking at this. More optimistically for Campbell, people do answer questions like this in quite a partisan manner. Charles Kennedy, despite having constantly very high approval ratings, always trailed behind in questions about who would make the best Prime Minister (just for clarity, this wasn’t one of those – it seems to have been done as three questions asking if each man was seen as Prime Ministerial, not one question asking people to chose). A more pessimistic interpretation would be that Campbell was elected as leader precisely because the Liberal Democrats wanted someone who looked more statesmanlike and Prime Ministerial than Kennedy. This poll suggests that despite his gravitas and experience, only 24% of people see Campbell as Prime Ministerial.

Finally, Newsnight asked if people would prefer to have Campbell as Lib Dem leader or Charlie Kennedy. Kennedy won easily by 53% to 26%. This was rather a cruel question – despite his manifest personal problems, Kennedy was a very popular figure with the public and it shouldn’t come as a particular surprise that people prefer him to Campbell when the latter has barely made an impression yet. Kennedy may have been seen as a lightweight, but in terms of public popularity Campbell has some very large shoes to step into.

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