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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Talk of the town?
BBC News Online political reporter Mark Davies offers his view of events at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

All eyes will be on Charles Kennedy as he makes his keynote speech to party conference on Thursday.

The speech is the main event of the day as the annual meeting draws to a close.

There will also be an emergency motion on the world summit on sustainable development, while debates are planned on eye care, archaeology and pensions.

One delegate on Wednesday tried to convince his colleagues that their plans for a dedicated health tax were the talk of pubs and clubs up and down the land.

His reasoning? People care deeply about the NHS and want to be absolutely sure taxpayers money is being used to help the service rather than being directed at other areas.

He may be right on the first point - the NHS matters hugely to millions of people.

But it's frankly unlikely that pubs and clubs will be humming to the sound of people mulling over hypothecation and Whitehall centralisation.

Yet whether the Liberal Democrat proposals for public services are the talk of the town or not, Wednesday was a key day for the party.

Its policy review paper on the public services will be central to its election campaigns over the next few years.

It is regarded, rightly, as a coherent package of proposals and Lib Dem leaders clearly see it as a turning point.

Certainly it highlights the current lack of proposals from the Tories.

So it was important for Charles Kennedy et al that Wednesday's debate on the plans went smoothly.

And it did, thanks in part perhaps to some poor speeches from those opposing some of the plans.

It was just the ringing endorsement the party leadership had hoped for. The next test will come at polling stations next year.

"Perhaps I shouldn't mock small struggling parties - we were once one ourselves" - Trade and industry spokesman Vince Cable has a go at the Tories

Chris Huhne, the MEP who headed the party's policy review for the public services, won a ringing endorsement for his work from conference.

Any fears of a rebellion were pretty much dispelled with only a handful of delegates criticising the plans.

Delegate Andrew Toye began a speech on the public services with a bold, old Labour-like: "Comrades...."

And, but for a couple of audible winces, was met in silence.

"It is the economics of Enron, not the honesty in tax-raising that we have been so proud of in recent elections" - Jonathan Davies, vice-chair of the English Lib Dems, as he opposed moves to back a dedicated NHS tax

Poor taste. The Lib Dem's daily newsletter, The Brighton Gazette, offers a guide to party slang.

To "Romsey", it suggests, is to get excited when one hears of the death of an MP in anticipation of a by-election.


One woman at an event aimed at offering tips to potential election candidates was left in no doubt over her own shortcomings.

"You'd just disappear in a TV studio," she was told. "You'd just vanish."

Nothing like an ego boost.


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