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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
A fireside chat mixed with passion

By Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter in Brighton

Charles Kennedy wants politicians to take a different approach to the way they pass on their thoughts and ideas. Sometimes, he says, a fireside chat is the best way to go about things.

So delegates gathered in the Brighton Centre's characterless main hall to be warmed by the Liberal Democrat leader's gentle lilt as the party conference drew to a close.

And at times it was indeed more cosy fireside chat over a single malt than a rip-roaring call to arms from the party leader.

Certainly he had some tough things to say as he settled back by the flickering flames, but he wasn't going to get too uptight about it.

Until the end, that is, when we got some pure passion as Mr Kennedy tore up his script and rallied the faithful before heading off amid a very enthusiastic ovation.

Part of the problem with a Charles Kennedy speech is that if the words look good on paper, the delivery sometimes let them down.


This was a good speech - one of his best yet - but it won't be one people look back on and say, "hey, do you remember Kennedy in Brighton in 2003?"

But if Tony Blair was to get an enthusiastic three-and-a-half minute ovation such as that enjoyed by Mr Kennedy right now, he'd be very pleased indeed.

Mr Kennedy may not be a particularly passionate speaker, but he certainly had a plan: pretty much everyone was going to get it in the neck.

Indeed, you started to wonder who he disliked the most, the "charlatan" Conservatives or the "tarnished" Labour Party.

You could imagine him sitting by his fireside spitting out the invective.

But such was his scorn for the Tories in particular, that he was able to summon up the spirit of generosity.


Yes, such was his concern for poor Iain Duncan Smith that he suggested the Conservatives should embrace proportional representation - that way they might win more council seats.

And the jokes - though hardly coming thick and fast - were pretty good. A jibe at Theresa May's shoes here, a sarcastic reference to Jack Straw there.

But it was at the end that Mr Kennedy really got into his stride.

With his foot tapping, at times in rhythm with his rhetoric, he found the passionate edge as he celebrated the devotion of a Lib Dem delegate who has been coming to conference since 1947.

And as he warned the Tories and Labour that "we're coming after you", the conference erupted with sense of excitement which has been building up all week.

The fireside chat approach was replaced, just for a while, with that of the firebrand.


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