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EDITIONS
Monday, 23 September, 2002, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
A spring in their step?
BBC News Online political reporter Mark Davies offers his view of events at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

Events on Tuesday will inevitably be overshadowed by the recall of Parliament.

But there is the prospect of embarrassment for the party leadership in a debate on reducing age restrictions in relation to pornography.

There will also be debates on human trafficking, the future of broadcasting and maritime piracy.

Perhaps it is the sea air, but there does seem to be a spring in the step of the Liberal Democrat party leadership.

Following the lead of Charles Kennedy, senior party figures are willing to speculate about the possibility of holding power in two elections' time.

It's a bold claim, not quite in the "go back to your constituencies and prepare for government" league, but bold nonetheless.

It's also an unlikely aspiration, but it does reflect a party feeling that it can make real inroads on both the Tories and Labour.

The party is offering concrete proposals and has significantly toughened up its line on crime.

On Iraq, it has a coherent view to present to MPs on Tuesday.

Some delegates, however, seem a little less confident. They appear less clear about where the party goes from here.

The big question for them was well put in the title of a conference fringe event: "Is Labour the real enemy now?"

In other words, the question is "what sort of a party are we?".

It's a big question and it hasn't been answered yet.

The award goes to the delegate who announced that following his election as US President in controversial circumstances, George Bush had come up with a new voting system: SPTP - or Second Past the Post.

Charles Kennedy's statement on Iraq went down well with delegates and political observers.

It had a strong message and made his party's position clear ahead of Tuesday's recall of parliament.

Tom Brake, spokesman for aviation, overplayed his use of puns as he began his speech to conference.

"I would like to welcome you aboard Lib Dem Air. As your captain for today, I hope in this seven minute flight..let's look at the government proposals...fasten your seatbelts...bumpy ride etc...etc..."

Puns are all well and good, but there is a limit.

"I hate to admit it but I admire the chancellor. Focused. Determined. Single-minded. But enough of his campaign to be prime minister" - Treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor has a dig at Mr Brown's alleged ambition for even higher office


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