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by RAY FLEMING
SIR Menzies Campbell's first few days as leader of the Liberal Democrats have been somewhat overshadowed by Tessa Jowell's problems but he will not have minded that greatly. It has given him the chance of playing himself in to the leadership carefully and to select his new team of shadow spokesmen and women. He has also done one very interesting thing, to appoint the former LibDem leader Lord Paddy Ashdown as a foreign affairs “ambassador” with special reference to the Balkans, where he has spent the past five years, and to Iraq and its related problems. This is a clever idea because Sir Menzies is having to scale down his involvement in his own special field of foreign affairs in order to concentrate on domestic issues, and Lord Ashdown will be a more than adequate replacement with a voice in the House of Lords. Among the other appointments made by Sir Menzies that of Nick Clegg to handle the home affairs portfolio will confirm that he is likely to be a strong contender for the party leadership when the next change takes place. Mr Clegg, 39, is a former member of the European Parliament and has been in the House of Commons representing Sheffield Hallam for only nine months; he was one of Sir Menzies' closest advisors in the leadership campaign. Meanwhile, the first opinion poll since Sir Menzies took over the party has shown that the LibDems have recovered most of the loss of support that followed Charles Kennedy's resignation as leader, and now stand at 20 per cent. According to this Populus poll Labour and the Conservatives are neck-and-neck with 35 per cent each, Labour having lost one per cent and the Conservatives two per cent in the past month. This will be a disappointment to David Cameron's supporters who will have expected him at least to hold the advance he made after taking the leadership at the end of last year. He is hamstrung by the fact that his various policy teams are not due to report for a year or so and initiatives such as the Built to Last statement of aims and values are not a replacement for hard policy proposals.