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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 August, 2004, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Lib Dem prospects are 'best ever'
Sir Menzies Campbell
Campbell says things are very different from 30 years ago
The Liberal Democrats' prospects have never been better, deputy leader Sir Menzies Campbell has said as the party pledged a review of election tactics.

The veteran MP argued Charles Kennedy now had a "very good army" of talented and ambitious MPs.

His comments to BBC News Online came as Mr Kennedy said the party was now "stronger than ever".

Mr Kennedy wants a strategy review to challenge Labour as well as the Tories at the next election.

Total attack

The Lib Dems have previously trumpeted their hopes of unseating top Tory figures such as Oliver Letwin, Theresa May and even Michael Howard in what has been dubbed a "decapitation strategy".

But in the last year, the party has won Brent East and Leicester South from Labour, and almost overturned a huge Labour majority in Birmingham Hodge Hill.

Mr Kennedy told the Times newspaper he wants to mount a "full-frontal assault" on both other major parties.

The opportunity has never been better than at the moment
Sir Menzies Campbell

Conservatives might back the Lib Dems in seats where they are the main challengers to Labour, he claimed, saying: "We will be able to argue credibly that a Conservative vote is a wasted vote in huge swathes of the country."

He argued the Lib Dems could "take on the Labour establishment and win" now in cities like Newcastle.

But he was careful to avoid "silly exaggerations" about Lib Dem ambitions, remembering the mockery of David Steel's 1981 mantra of telling supporters to go home and prepare for government.

'Talented army'

Sir Menzies first stood as a Liberal candidate in February 1974.

He told BBC News Online: "I have been through all the strategies and all the mergers and have the scars to show for it.

"But what is certainly true is that the opportunity has never been better than at the moment because it is firmly rooted in the success at local government level.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy says his party is the main challenge to Labour
"In addition, we have a remarkable collection now of talented, ambitious and effective members of Parliament, with more waiting in the wings.

"Kennedy has the benefit of leading probably the best qualified group of MPs.

"Before the days of the Alliance, the Liberals who came into the House of Commons were a pretty individualistic lot and when the SDP was formed a lot of people left the Labour Party who were not necessarily in the top flight, aside from people like Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams."

Of the top 50 Lib Dem targets, according to the last election results, only 13 of them are Labour-held.

But Sir Menzies said Lib Dem opposition to the Iraq war showed that if the policies were right, it did not matter if the party was trying to appeal to voters conventionally thought to be from the Left or Right.

He warned: "We must not try and play both ends off against the middle. The policy conclusions have got to be carefully thought through and have got to be stuck to the length and breadth of the country."

Victim of ambition?

The Lib Dems' opponents instead accuse the party of saying different things in different parts of the country.

The party has previously been known for flooding key target seats with its activists.

Sir Menzies acknowledged it would have to allocate resources carefully as it became "the victim of one's ambition" in challenging for more seats.

But whereas numbers of campaigners were vital in by-election campaigns, it was possible to set a national tone for a general election

He added: "If you are on a rising tide, which we appear to be, then it is much easier to manage without large numbers of foot soldiers.

"If you are defending in the way that Labour is going to be or scrambling in the way the Tories seem to be, then the absence of foot soldiers could be very significant."

A Tory spokesman suggested the Lib Dems were changing their strategy because they realised Tory support was likely to strengthen in areas where there was a tight battle between the two.

Tory research suggested voters did not consider the Lib Dems seriously in terms of a potential government and so a different dynamic would emerge at the general election than that seen in by-elections, he argued.




SEE ALSO:
Kennedy cautions over by-election
27 Jul 04  |  Politics
Kennedy heralds 'three party era'
21 Jul 04  |  Politics
By-elections - a national pointer?
16 Jul 04  |  Politics


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