Political EditorTomos Livingstone at the Liberal Democrat Conference
ASSEMBLY member Kirsty Williams has been slapped down by the party leadership for "naively" starting her own bid for the Liberal Democrats' top job in Wales.
Ms Williams, AM for Brecon and Radnor, is one of the party's rising stars and is widely seen as the obvious successor to Mike German as leader of the Assembly group.
But Mr German, 60, has shown few signs of wanting to step down, particularly with the Lib-Dems expecting gains at the 2007 Assembly elections.
An internal memo written by Mr German and leaked to ITV Wales' Waterfront programme, suggests Ms Williams could take over in two to four years, and that she has support within the Assembly group.
Mr German writes that she should spend that time "doing good things" instead of agitating to take over, and says she has been "naive".
The memo also reveals Ms Williams is being backed by Montgomeryshire AM Mick Bates.
Under party rules a vote of no confidence within the six-strong Assembly group, or from 10 constituency parties, is needed to trigger a leadership contest.
His memo reads, "KW wants to be leader but sometime in the future - Mick mentions 2-4 years. Mick is supporting and encouraging her. He agrees nothing will happen in the short term, until I have finished the job, but says he told her to prepare her ground with the party. I pointed out that this should mean doing good things with the party not mounting a leadership bid straight out. I pointed out the dangers to the party as a whole of doing this. He gave me a reassurance that he understood this point and that is what Kirsty should do.
"So - storm in a teacup - but naivety in the extreme to think that a campaign was the way to go about it."
One senior party source said last night some Welsh Lib-Dems were unhappy there had been little internal discussion on issues such as a possible "rainbow coalition" in the Assembly. But the source added that any leadership challenge before 2007 would be unlikely. The leak will prove an unwelcome distraction for the Liberal Democrats ahead of the first plenary session of a new Assembly term this afternoon.
Ms Williams, 34, has repre-sented Brecon and Radnor since 1999, and speaks for the party on Economic Development following a period as health spokeswoman.
She is an ardent pro-devolutionist, and has in the past campaigned for the party to use positive discrimination in order to get more women into elected positions.
With the Liberal Democrats expected to gain seats in 2007, whoever leads the party can expect to be involved in some sort of coalition - possibly bringing with it the post of Deputy First Minister.
Asked last night if she had any plans for a leadership bid, Ms Williams said, "There isn't a vacancy."
Asked about the charge that she was "naive", she said, "It is naive for any leader not to reflect on how they are doing in the party and how their leadership is being received by members of the party."
Mr German said, "This is a complete non-story, a storm in a teacup."