Webb backs Clegg in LibDem leadership race

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LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) Senior Liberal Democrat Steve Webb declared today he will not stand in the party leadership race to replace Menzies Campbell, but will support Nick Clegg's campaign.

Webb, who is in charge of the party's next general election manifesto, said he had seriously considered standing and that personal reasons had played a part in his decision.

The media-savvy Clegg, 40, home affairs spokesman and joint favourite for the party's top job, is due to launch his campaign for the leadership in his Sheffield constituency tomorrow.

Webb, 42, said on his parliamentary blog yesterday that he had been ''able to establish that if I decided to go for it I would have enough nominations to take part in the contest''.

But today he said the party needed a leader who could communicate LibDem values and policies and who had strategic political judgment.

''I believe that Nick best combines those qualities and can take our party on to a new level,'' he said.

He added: ''On a personal level, it has become clear to me that a campaign and the job of leader would have a huge cost for us as a family based outside London.'' Environment spokesman Chris Huhne, 53, is the only officially declared contender so far.

Campbell, 66, frustrated by constant criticism that he was too old for the job, shocked the party by quitting on Monday, after barely consulting colleagues.

His decision to stand down also followed a LibDem slump in opinion polls to just 11 percent.

Nominations for the leadership close on October 31, with the winner due to be announced on December 17.

REUTERS SKB PM1544

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