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The BBC's Gutto Harri in Bournemouth
"Is he wise to put such emphasis on targeting tories?"
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Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader, Alan Beith MP
"There is some value in continuing talks with Labour, but not at the expense of pointing out where they are failing"
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The BBC's Jonathan Beale in Bournemouth
"Using a language more associated with New Labour, he'll champion his priorities as the peoples' priorities"
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banner Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 00:32 GMT 01:32 UK
Kennedy looks to election
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy
Kennedy is hoping for election breakthrough
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

Charles Kennedy will wind up the Liberal Democrat conference on Thursday with a powerful call to disillusioned Tories to join his party.

In a "positive and upbeat" end-of-conference speech, he will set his party's sights firmly on the next general election.

And, with opinion polls giving the party its best showing for five years, he will speak not just to the party faithful but to the millions of voters he believes can be swayed to his side.

He will try to appeal to both Labour and Tory voters - and will even echo one of Tony Blair's favourite catch phrases, by insisting his priorities are "the people's priorities".

But his main message will be to Tory voters such as those who handed his party a sensational victory in the Romsey by-election earlier this year.

"Today, I want to address the millions of previous Conservative voters who feel William Hague's party offers them nothing," he will say.

"I share many of the values, the beliefs, the concerns of the people who used to be called one-nation Conservatives - tolerance, decency and fair play.

"If you believe in these things and you look at your party - that has not got room any more at the top table for the likes of Kenneth Clarke, Michael Heseltine and Chris Patten - then your party no longer has room for you.

"To you I say this: 'You have friends in the Liberal Democrats, you have a home, come and talk to us, you will be very, very welcome'," he will say.

Tax and spend

Turning to the other theme of the conference and his party's election manifesto, he will stress that only the Liberal Democrats would give people true freedom.

"The manifesto will also show in every chapter where government must do less," he will say.

"To give people more freedom government must not judge individual morality.

"We would scrap a range of regulations that burden small business, we would cut bureaucracy in schools and we would let people, not politicians, decide how some of their tax revenues are spent.

"Tax and spend? Every party taxes and spends but our priorities are the people's priorities.

"That is what freedom means. It's not left of Labour, not right of Labour, it's ahead of Labour.

"It's also honest, where there is a cost we will say how we will pay for it," he will say.

Balance of power

There is no doubt that his party is in better heart than it has been for years.

It has shown it can pick up votes from both the major parties and some are even daring to believe it could hold the balance of power after the next election.

The over-riding theme of the Bournemouth conference - which, by any measure has been a major success for Mr Kennedy - has been to maximise the Lib Dems' appeal to Tories.

Many of the polices adopted at the rally, and much of the so-called "tax and spend" manifesto appear to put the party to the left of Labour - a claim Mr Kennedy has been eager to dismiss.

But he knows that, to make significant new gains at the next election, he must take votes form the Tories.

And his speech will be littered with attacks on William Hague and will have at its core the aim of persuading dissatisfied Tories that he offers a real, sensible alternative.

He will make no unrealistic claims about winning the election outright, but will want to leave delegates with the impression that they are on the verge of a genuine breakthrough.

They have been here before, of course, and Mr Kennedy knows that his poll rating can disappear as quickly as it appeared.

But he has plenty of reason for optimism and if he can send his delegates back to their constituencies with a new self-confidence and spoiling for a fight, he will have succeeded.

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See also:

19 Sep 00 | Liberal Democrats
Lib Dems' hostage to fortune
18 Sep 00 | Liberal Democrats
Kennedy targets Tories
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