The Liberal Democrat party, still reeling from the shock resignation of its leader Sir Menzies Campbell yesterday, will hold a two month race to replace him.
As expected, the party’s President Simon Hughes, who came out as bisexual while a candidate in the previous leadership race in January 2006, has ruled himself out of the contest this time.
Sir Ming resigned yesterday with immediate effect without speaking to the press.
Even close colleagues were unaware that he had decided to stand down, and there was persistent speculation that he had been “persuaded” to resign.
In an interview with the BBC today the 66-year-old Scot said he took the decision alone, and explained he had been irritated and frustrated over standing down.
“Irritated because of the quite extraordinary concentration of trivia which seem to surround leadership – people write articles on what kind of socks I wear,” he said.
“Frustrated at not getting the opportunity to lead the party in a general election, and I think our policies and our principles and our values would have been right at the very centre of the political agenda.”
Nominations for his successor open today and close on 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.
Vince Cable is acting leader until then and will fill in at Prime Minister’s Questions.
He refused to rule himself out of the race to succeed on last night’s Newsnight.
However, as age was a major factor in Sir Ming’s unpopularity it seems unlikely the party will turn to a 64-year-old to improve its dire poll ratings.
Of the two frontrunners to succeed Sir Ming, Environment spokesman Chris Huhne is expected to launch his campaign tomorrow, while Home Affairs spokesman Nick Clegg has said he will consult with his wife and other before making a decision.
Both are seen as being to the Right of the party, and left candidate Steve Webb is tipped to enter the race.
As many as four other MPs are rumoured to be considering standing for leader, among them Sir Ming’s head of staff Ed Davey, Richmond MP Susan Kramer and Birmingham Yardley MP John Hemming.
Stephen Williams MP, whose fight against homophobic bullying in schools has won him many admirers in the LGBT community, said he was not considering running for leader when asked by PinkNews.co.uk if he would throw his hat in the ring.