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The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"This weekend has been about pure electioneering"
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Saturday, 17 March, 2001, 23:39 GMT
Kennedy's 'laid back' liberalism
Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy considers himself a 'laid back' liberal
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder in Torquay.

Charles Kennedy has set the Liberal Democrats on the election warpath declaring that "what you see is what you get" with the party.

That would mean a society based on the values of freedom, justice and honesty, he insisted.

Taxes would be increased to fund improvements in the public services, particularly education, the health service and policing.

Pensioners and those relying on long-term care would get big benefits from a Lib Dem government.

I believe our party offers the country a real chance for real change

Charles Kennedy
And, unlike the other major parties, protecting the environment would be at the heart of all his policies, he told his party's spring conference in Torquay.

The centre of his speech was a highly personalised section written only the day before.

He abandoned the lectern, autocues and notes to pace the stage in shirt sleeves presenting a deliberately chatty image which he hopes will help boost his leadership profile.

And he told the 1,300 delegates: "For me personally as much as politically, what you see is what you get."

'Laid back'

He continued: "One of the reasons I'm really looking forward to this election is that it gives me a personal opportunity to speak directly to the country, about the sort of person I am, what kind of people we are.

It is the sheer poverty of ambition about New Labour that frustrates me so much

Charles Kennedy
"Some people even accuse me of being laid back - well I am laid back and the reason I'm temperamentally like that is because I'm tolerant and because I'm a liberal. And I'm proud of that."

He went on to attack Labour for failing to live up to its pre-1997 promise, declaring: "Labour's delivery has been deeply, deeply disappointing.

"That leaves me frustrated and I know it leaves you frustrated too."

'Funny money'

He accused Chancellor Gordon Brown of using "funny money in his Budget".

"It was too much old cash addressing old problems that needed new money a long time ago."

A William Hague government - it's almost a contradiction in terms

Charles Kennedy
But he saved his greatest fire for the Tories - the party he needs to beat if he is to live up to his prediction of increasing his number of MPs at the next election.

"Think about that for a moment: a William Hague government. It's almost a contradiction in terms.

"It would be funny if it wasn't quite so frightening," he said.

He accused the Conservatives of opportunism, executing U-turns almost every day.

"U-turn after U-turn - fuel prices, tax cuts, the minimum wage. How do you know a Tory policy tomorrow? Easy, it's the exact opposite of what it is today."

'Social justice'

In a clear reference to the Tory leader's controversial "Britain as a foreign country" speech, added: "William Hague's Conservative party stands for social division by playing on people's fears.

He defended his plans to raise income tax by one penny and raise the top rate on those earning over 100,000 a year in order to fund public services.

With us, what you see is what you get - freedom, justice, honesty

Charles Kennedy

Ending on another personal note he recalled how 18 months ago when considering whether to run as leader he had looked in the mirror and said: "OK mate if you want to do this job are you quite sure you are willing to take all the things that go with it."

But he also asked himself why he wanted to do the job. The answer was to take his party and the country further by "winning and winning bigger".

And while his hugely well-received speech probably succeeded in presenting Charlie Kennedy the leader - that electoral ambition is still his greatest challenge.

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See also:

17 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Liberal time-keeping haunts conference
21 Sep 00 | UK Politics
'Join Lib Dems,' Kennedy tells Tories
06 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dem pre-manifesto at a glance
06 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dems focus attack on poverty
20 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dems pledge more education cash
16 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Kennedy's rallying call to Lib Dems
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