[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 21 September, 2003, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Lib Dems see off monarchy vote call
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy wants his party to become the main opposition
An attempt by the youth wing of the Liberal Democrats to force the party to commit to a referendum on replacing the Queen as head of state has been roundly defeated.

Charles Kennedy had already indicated before the start of the annual conference in Brighton that such a policy had no chance of making it into his party's next general election manifesto.

But deputy Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell did call for reform of the status quo, arguing for a "bicycling monarchy".

He said it was "time to start again" on the constitutional position of the Queen.

The leadership was spared some embarrassment as delegates at the conference decisively turned down the youth wing's motion following a debate entitled "towards a democratic head of state".

Mr Kennedy kicked off the party political conference season by hailing the Lib Dem's by-election victory in the formerly safe Labour seat of Brent East.

Suggestions rubbished

He said last Thursday's vote showed his party can appeal to disaffected Tory voters while continuing to make in-roads in traditional Labour territory.

And he rubbished suggestions by Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith that the Lib Dems had fought a campaign to the left of Labour in order to win the seat.

Instead he pointed to a raft of issues he had heard raised on the doorstep from Iraq through to dissatisfaction with the local Labour council.

Mr Kennedy drew the parallel between Brent East and the Bermondsey by-election in the early 1980s - a seat that has remained in Lib Dem hands ever since.

The by-election result prompted Home Secretary David Blunkett to acknowledge Labour needed to "renew its relationship with the electorate".

He said that after a period in government "you start to speak like the establishment, you start to look like the establishment and if you are not careful you start to think like the establishment".

Focus urged

Earlier Mr Kennedy urged his party to stay disciplined and maintain focus as that was the only way to achieve his aim of supplanting the Conservatives as the main opposition party.

In the wake of Thursday's result, the Lib Dems would be "under the microscope" during the Brighton conference, he said.

We have to be more professional and more strict in our entire approach as a party
Charles Kennedy

Other subjects for debate on Sunday included pensions and international trade and investment.

Mr Kennedy also mocked a claim by Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who accused the Lib Dems of a strategic blunder in their tactics for the Brent East by-election.

The Lib Dems' Sarah Teather seized the seat in the key north London by-election on Thursday. The Tories were beaten into third place.

Mr Duncan Smith said the Lib Dems had fought a left-wing campaign, thereby exposing the "lie" that it is a moderate party of the centre.

"The campaign which won them Brent will lose them seats all over Britain at the next election," he said.

Mr Kennedy replied: "I am amused that winning a by-election could be described as a strategic blunder."

Speaking as he arrived at the conference, he said: "Voters don't think and don't talk and don't respond to the terms of left and right.

"They want a party that's going forward, and that is the party they saw in Brent."

The BBC's Carolyn Quinn
"Some of those anti-establishment Liberal Democrat tendencies just can't be repressed"

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific