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EDITIONS
Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Low key, but confident
BBC News Online political reporter Mark Davies offers his view of events at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

It was a good week in Brighton for the Liberal Democrats.

No barmy motions were passed. There were no dreadful gaffes.

The potentially problematic debate on public services passed by without too many dissenting voices.

It was also low key. Many seats in the conference hall were curtained off to keep row upon row of empty seats off television screens.

And even so, the hall was still half empty at times.

But there were lively debates - on crime, pornography and public services, for instance - alongside important speeches from Charles Kennedy.

And for all the motions passed and meetings held, the most important thing about conference is, of course, the message to the voters outside.

The message from Mr Kennedy is aimed at the moment at the Tories and it's pretty straight-forward: "We're coming to get you."

Many observers believe he has a chance of making inroads on Conservative support if Iain Duncan Smith cannot revive his party's fortunes.

And the Liberal Democrats did themselves no harm in Brighton.

On Iraq, which inevitably overshadowed the conference, Mr Kennedy believes he is speaking for many in the UK concerned about the possibility of Tony Blair joining the US in action again Saddam Hussein without UN backing.

The party's call for a dedicated NHS tax, meanwhile, is a useful contribution to the debate about funding public services.

And it's certainly true that some leading Lib Dems have a spring in their step right now.

And confident Liberal Democrats are good for UK politics.

It's good for politics if the party can make a credible challenge to the Tories. It'd be good for the Conservatives too, if it helps to shake the party out of the doldrums.

Strong opposition from parties outside government - particularly one with such a large majority - makes for a healthy political climate.

Those who worry about political apathy should hope the Lib Dems really came become a greater force.

Delegate Rupert Redesdale offered a way to describe particularly extreme Nimby types (that's 'not-in-my-back-yard' if you didn't know) - Bananas.

Or in other words those who back the notion: "Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone".

QC Anthony Scrivener - a new recruit to the Liberal Democrat party - gave the annual fund-raising appeal.

Public speaking, of course, is nothing new for him. But even so, the speech was one of the highlights of the conference.

Amid an atmosphere of high spirits, one or two Lib Dem MPs were looking a little glum this week.

The reason? A forthcoming reshuffle of senior posts. Charles Kennedy has his targets in his sights.

"British politics is up for grabs in a way it has not been for 100 years - the prize is very great" - Charles Kennedy brings conference to a close


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