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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Charlie's Tory reshuffle?

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

You probably missed it amid the Tory leadership difficulties and the Hutton inquiry - but Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has reshuffled his top team.

Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy needs to look to Tory voters
The appointment of a new shadow cabinet, as Mr Kennedy likes to call it, appears to be part of his strategy to "decapitate" the Tory Party - as if Iain Duncan Smith's troops weren't doing a good enough job of that already.

By getting rid of "lefties" in favour of more centre-right types, it appears Mr Kennedy is attempting to present a more attractive alternative to fed-up Tory voters.

He is painfully aware that, at the moment, the Lib Dems' success is largely based on them being an alternative anti-Tory option for disillusioned or tactical-voting Labourites.

But if he is to stand any chance of really transforming his party into the second biggest group in Westminster, he has to persuade Tory voters that the Lib Dems are a worthy alternative for them.

So he needs to shift focus onto more Tory-friendly faces.

Little support

That has seen the sacking of Home Affairs spokesman and one-time leadership hopeful Simon Hughes, who is running for London mayor, and treasury spokesman Matthew Taylor.

In their place come - dare we say - "modernisers".

Mark Oaten, David Laws and Vince Cable have already been branded "pseudo-Blairites" by infuriated Lib Dem peer Lord Greaves.

Matthew Taylor
Mr Taylor made way for a new face
And he has argued that their free market, "economic liberalism" has little support within the wider party.

He believes the ousted figures, who come from a liberal socialism tradition, are far more in tune with the wider party.

It is a statement on the current state of British politics that pseudo-Blairites are seen as more right-wing and appealing to Tories than old Liberals.

Minor eruption

It is equally interesting to note that one of these so-called right-wingers, treasury spokesman Mr Cable, is an ex-Labour parliamentary candidate and adviser to former leader John Smith.

He also contributed to the now-famous book "The Red Paper for Scotland" edited by Gordon Brown two decades ago.

Still, that doesn't make him a bad man and nowadays it certainly doesn't make him a leftie.

But what all this amounts to is another minor eruption of the continuing debate inside the Lib Dems about where they should place themselves on the political spectrum.

Many claim they are the only truly centre-left party - and certainly to the left of Labour.

Those, often Liberal, voices are often portrayed as being in love with opposition from where they can maintain their purity without ever having to test it in power.

That is, of course, precisely the argument levelled at Labour's old, defeated left wing.

Others clearly believe they should be presenting a more modern face that would finally drive them out of the third party ghetto they have inhabited for a generation.

Precisely the route taken by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson for New Labour.

Taylor demoted in Lib Dem reshuffle
13 Oct 03  |  Politics


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