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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 January 2006, 16:19 GMT
Kennedy statement in full
Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy said he would be loyal to the new leader

I wished to make a statement this afternoon having, as I said yesterday evening, reflected over the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

When I made my personal statement on Thursday afternoon I said then that I thought it was only fair to give our party members their say over my continuing leadership.

Accordingly, I requested the opening of a leadership election - which the party's Federal Executive will put in train at their meeting on Monday evening.

Since then it has been open to any other Liberal Democrat MP to announce their candidacy and to stand against me.

None have decided to do so.

In the recent weeks and days I have been inundated by messages of support from Party members and activists throughout the country.

It means a great deal to me - which I have appreciated enormously.

I have been inundated by messages of support from party members and activists.......such support is not reflected strongly enough across the parliamentary party

Many, many of them have made the point to me that we fought for and founded this party on the fundamental principle of one member, one vote.

I urge them to stick with us and to exercise that right in the leadership election which now follows.

However, it is clear now that such support is not reflected strongly enough across the parliamentary party in the House of Commons itself.

In all of this the interests of the party have to come first. That is where my personal, political and constitutional duty lies.

Accordingly, I am announcing today that when nominations open for the leadership of the party I shall not now be putting my name forward.

And I am standing down as leader with immediate effect.

'Heartfelt tribute'

I have been in politics for far too long to be overly sentimental about this sort of moment.

However, I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to the many colleagues and friends who have helped sustain me through my years as party leader in parliament and outside.

Personally and politically the support of my wife. Sarah, and our respective families remains beyond adequate tribute

And with whom I look forward to continue working in politics for very many years to come - at constituency level and at national level.

They are far too numerous to mention individually, save one - and that person is Anna Werrin. A finer friend and colleague you could not wish for - throughout my first 23 years in politics!

Personally and politically the support of my wife, Sarah, and our respective families remains beyond adequate tribute - but they know the sincerity of what I am saying today.

Loyal support

Now, there are very important elections in front of this party and it is essential in my view that a new, democratically-elected leader is in place as soon as possible to take the party forward.

And that new leader can be assured of my loyal support as a backbench Liberal Democrat MP.

That new leader - and the party - also has some serious internal political issues to address further and to resolve.

The leadership personalities change from time to time in politics, but principles should not

And I want to say a few words about that process today.

As I have acknowledged before, there is a genuine debate going on within this party - somewhat crudely caricatured at times as being in rather redundant terms as between left and right; in rather simplistic terms as between social liberals and economic liberals; in rather misleading terms as between traditionalists and modernisers.

I have never accepted that these are irreconcilable instincts - indeed, quite the opposite.

And I believe that unity remains fundamental to our further advance and success.

It should be a debate driven by ourselves.

It must not be allowed to become dictated by others who do not share our long-term hopes and goals.

We must stand and argue - politically independent and intellectually self-confident.

Mr Kennedy and his wife Sarah walk towards the conference venue
It has been a tense week for Mr Kennedy and his wife, Sarah

And it must be based on time-honoured, sound philosophic liberal principles - principles which have stood the test of generations and remain not just as relevant to, but even more essential, in British politics today.

The leadership personalities change from time to time in politics, but principles should not.

Civil liberties; justice and rule of international law; Britain again seen as a force for good in the world, through our unique amalgam of roles within Europe, the United Nations and the Commonwealth; a far greater regard for our environmental challenges today and what we bequeath to future generations; and a far fairer social deal for the have-nots in our society.

I look forward to continuing to contribute to that ongoing debate in due course.

My sincere parting advice as leader to the party is to keep that debate within the parameter of these principles - and not to get unduly distracted by the machinations in other parties or what the vagaries of the British voting system may offer up at a future general election.

That route will blur our identity and turn away the very voters who are still looking to us - rightly so - as their best hope for the future.

It is to that future which I will continue to work with enthusiasm.

First, for the people of the Ross, Skye & Lochaber constituency - whom I am privileged to serve.

'Serious players'

And also for the continuing progress and success of our Liberal Democrat values - values which, when best expressed, give voice to the many who might otherwise be insufficiently heard.

A new leader inherits a party with the largest House of Commons representation in the liberal tradition in over 80 years.

We secured a million more votes in our support at the last General Election compared with the one before.

We are established as serious players in the changing reality which is three-party politics across Britain.

I believe that to be a good inheritance and a great opportunity.

One in which I look forward to continuing to play my part.

Thank you.


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