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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Lib Dem conference
On Sunday 18 September 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Charles Kennedy MP, from the Liberal Democrat Conference in Blackpool

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Charles Kennedy MP
Charles Kennedy from the Liberal Democrat Conference in Blackpool

ANDREW MARR: Now Charles Kennedy gets lots of helpful advice from the Sunday papers today - we read that he'll be standing down after the next election, we read that he should promise to cut taxes or raise them or do this deal or do that deal so what is he up to?

Charles, good morning to you up there in Blackpool.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Andrew, a very good morning to you.

ANDREW MARR: Now first of all, this story saying that you've announced or told people that you're going to stand down after the next election - any truth in that?

CHARLES KENNEDY: None whatsoever. None.

ANDREW MARR: Well that's nice and clear. One of the things that's going to happen at the party conference is a debate about leadership rules - people say that it puts you in a stronger position if the changes go through. You don't, do you have any sense of Simon Hughes sort of nipping at your ankles as you walk up and down the promenade?

CHARLES KENNEDY: No I certainly do not and in fact this very, very minor leadership rule change, which is something quite separate from my own activities, it results from the last leadership election. I mean this seems a sensible time to deal with it, that you want to set the barrier a bit higher for the number of candidates now that we've got so many more MPs when you next have a leadership election in the party. So it's a tidying up exercise, there's no real political import to it one way or the other and in that sense I'm above the battle.

ANDREW MARR: Now if the Tories are always having leadership contests, what you do as a party is you're always having "wither the Liberal Democrats" debates and I guess it's going to be the same again. So, particularly if you have somebody like Ken Clarke in the Conservative Party overtly trying to appeal to many of the people who voted for you last time round, where are you going to take the Liberal Democrats next?

CHARLES KENNEDY: Well I think that there's two separate issues at work here, on the basis of the result of this year's general election. The first is, obviously, as you say, the Conservatives are going through yet another internal navel-gazing exercise, a leadership election.

I still don't see myself how they are going to resolve their internal difficulties, quite frankly - I've thought for years the problem for them is Conservative Party, not the individual who happens to be the leader of it at any given time and I really don't think anything's changed.

So we have a real opportunity here. But secondly, if you do look at the results, what is very significant indeed, apart from the fact that we've increased our both level of support in the country and our number of MPs, is the fact the we are now challenging Labour in so many of their seats -

ANDREW MARR: Ah but if I may just interrupt you there -


ANDREW MARR: Of the 40 seats which, you know, where the Labour majority is smallest, I think you're only second in four of them and the Conservatives are second in 36 of them.

CHARLES KENNEDY: Yes, but if you look at the results from last time, we demonstrated quite clearly - we did in Leeds, we did it in Manchester Withington, elsewhere, that we can take on big Labour majorities and defeat them - as indeed we proved earlier in the Brent by-election and the subsequent general election and there are no no-go areas for this party and I think that we must be part of the, the whole story in British politics over these next four years if we are to achieve a change in government. I don't think it will come with a Conservative government but I think there is everything to play for from a Liberal Democrat perspective.

ANDREW MARR: Well Vince Cable, one of your senior lieutenants is suggesting, has suggested that it might well come about by a Ken Clarke type Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of some kind.

CHARLES KENNEDY: I just don't see that happening at all, that's not on the agenda. First of all, we've no idea who the next leader of the Conservative Party is going to be, but secondly the issue for us surely is the Conservative Party - I think there are far too many fundamental differences between ourselves and the Conservatives.

But the other thing that we'd be making a great mistake to do would be to start theorising here and now, months after our successful general election, about what may or may not be the shape of British politics another four years down the track. We didn't do that before -

ANDREW MARR: But you know you won't - (OVERLAPS) - you won't have the Iraq War as the kind of central issue it was at the last election and if the Conservatives don't move to the right but move towards the centre, you're going to have some serious problems.

CHARLES KENNEDY: I don't accept the, the rational of that at all because I think the problem for the Conservative Party is that it's a party that has been in a period of historic stagnation really - it can't get above 30 per cent of the popular vote. Now that's still higher than what we achieved at this most recent election but our levels of support are moving in the right direction, theirs are not.

What we therefore have got to do, I think, is demonstrate the credibility and the relevance, in terms of national politics, to a much higher extent than has been the case before, and we're well placed to do that now because I don't see the Conservatives recovering but clearly there has to be a credible, authentic alternative to this government - and that must come from us.

ANDREW MARR: Well we shall be watching very closely over the coming week to see whether it will or not. Thank you very much indeed Charles Kennedy.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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