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Thursday, 27 September, 2001, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Kennedy warns of threat to democracy
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy
Kennedy says his party is now taken seriously
Nick Assinder

Charles Kennedy has ended the Liberal Democrat conference with a warning to the world not to meet terror with terror.

In a sombre and short speech dominated by the international crisis he underlined his warning that incautious action against terrorism would destroy the basic values of liberty, democracy and diversity.

"Dissent, democracy, debate must never be beaten by bullets, barbarism and bombs

Charles Kennedy
"As we have always said, whether in the context of the Middle East, or in 30 years of experience of terrorism within our own country, we will never, ever let the terrorists triumph.

"Dissent, democracy, debate must never be beaten by bullets, barbarism and bombs.

"But we need also to remember this. We do a disservice to democracy itself if our only response is to simply meet terror with terror.

"We do nothing to protect all that we hold dear if we abandon, in the name of security, the very principles which the terrorists seek to destroy - liberty, democracy, diversity," he said.

In it together

He said the crisis had also underlined the Liberal Democrat belief in internationalism and membership of the EU.

In one of the few overtly political sections of his speech, he turned on the Eurosceptics in parliament.

"The real lesson of 11 September is staring us all now in the face, it is that isolationism just doesn't work. We are in this together.

"And if you think about it, the entire case for Britain being part of the European Union is built on that self-same basic premise.

"But it would be foolish and dangerous to pretend that all people in Britain subscribe to that view. There are people in British party politics who seem to believe somehow that we can go it alone, that we don't need Europe and that we're actually better off without it.

"Well I say to those people - you are wrong, you are wrong."

The Lib Dem leader backed away from the sort of all-out attacks on his political opponents which traditionally come in end-of-conference speeches.

And the entire event ended on a low key, rather than celebratory note

Serious party

Mr Kennedy repeated his assertion that, in the wake of the Tories' second election drubbing, the Lib Dems were now the effective opposition.

And he urged his troops to up their game and prove they were a "serious party".

"But we will only achieve this if, in the months and years ahead, we are more vocal, more competent, more authoritative and quicker on our feet than either of the other parties."

In what was a clear message to the different wings of his party he declared: "I drew a few personal lessons from the general election campaign - get some sleep, be straight with people, address people's hopes not their fears, address aspirations not just attitudes, talk about solutions not simply problems.

"Don't get bogged down in left versus right arguments but try to stay ahead of the other parties."

He also stressed the party's support for the public services, an issue that has sparked some divisions during the conference.

"We are going to be judged by this you know, and we've got to get it right.

"Our priority is that public service professionals should have the freedom to deliver high quality public services, not in the interests of the producer but in the interests of the people. That is our position."

Little triumphalism

He also added that people understood the money for increased spending on the public services had to come from somewhere.

"So, let's be honest, and be honest with ourselves. Of course private initiatives can have their place in public services, just as there's a real role for the voluntary and charitable sectors, all too often overlooked in this discussion.

"But we will never, never, never put the pursuit of private profit before transport safety or health and education. Never."

He told the delegates that, in developing the party's role as the effective opposition, it had to appeal to both disaffected Conservative and Labour supporters.

And he won great applause and cheers when he said that was why he had abandoned the informal deal with the Labour party through the joint consultative committee.

There was little triumphalism in his speech and he won a warm reception from the conference.

He had a difficult tightrope between underlining some key political messages and addressing serious divisions in his party over the public services and its future direction while, at the same time, accepting that the international crisis is dominating all political activity.

Most believed he had struck the right note, but there was little appetite in the Bournemouth conference for the usual political slanging match and point scoring.

The BBC's John Pienaar
"The speech went down well"
The BBC's Nick Robinson
reports at the close of Charles Kennedy's speech

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09 Jun 01 | Talking Point
25 Sep 01 | UK Politics
24 Sep 01 | Liberal Democrats
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