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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Kennedy attacks new Tory leadership
Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith has pledged to target the Lib Dems
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy says that Tories unhappy with the direction their new leader is taking could feel at home in his party.

In his most outspoken comments since Iain Duncan Smith's election as Tory leader less than two weeks ago, Mr Kennedy attacked his shadow cabinet appointments and accused the Tories of being divided and incompetent.

People will be forming their own conclusions about what's happening in the Conservative Party in terms of its leadership

Charles Kennedy
The interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme came on the second day of the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth, which has been largely overshadowed by the international situation.

Mr Kennedy made a plea for the humanitarian aspect of any action against Afghanistan for harbouring US terrorist attack suspect Osama Bin Laden to remain a priority.

He backed his international development spokeswoman Jenny Tonge, who called on Monday for Afghanistan to be bombed "with food and aid".

Asked on Today whether the Lib Dems were actively seeking to recruit disaffected Tory MPs, Mr Kennedy said it would be "unseemly" in the current international climate and politically counterproductive.

Leadership signals

But, following criticism of Mr Duncan Smith for appointing mostly right-wingers to his frontbench team, Mr Kennedy insisted Tories could feel at home in his party.

"People will be forming their own conclusions about what's happening in the Conservative Party in terms of its leadership, in terms of the appointments that the new leader has chosen to make and in terms of the signals that that sends to the wider community," Mr Kennedy said.

"The real issue is: 'Is the Conservative Party, in its present psychological condition, capable of being led in a united way?' And I think the answer to that question is no.

Charles Kennedy:
Charles Kennedy: Sees his party as real opposition
"I think what people want from their parties is unity and competence and I don't think either of those are on offer (from the Tories)."

During the general election - which saw the Lib Dems win 52 seats, six more than 1997 - Mr Kennedy sought to portray his party as the real opposition to Labour.

In the subsequent Tory leadership election Mr Duncan Smith pledged he would target the Lib Dems with a specific unit set up within Conservative Central Office.

Turning to the international situation, Mr Kennedy said it was "more than likely" some kind of military action would prove necessary following the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

British opinion

But he went on: "We have got to keep the humanitarian aspect of all of this very, very much to the forefront as well."

"There will be a huge groundswell of opinion in this country that says that starving people, who have neither invited a particular character to their country nor had a chance to vote for the administration of that country, should not suffer disproportionately as a result of the position of that country."

The remarks follow his emergency statement to the conference on Monday in which he said the UK should be America's "candid friend" and offer both support and words of caution in the campaign to root out global terrorism.

Reflecting the fears of many party delegates in an earlier emergency debate, Mr Kennedy warned of the dangerous fear that could flow from the "unity of understandable anger" that had swept across America.

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