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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK
Baroness Williams' tips for the top
Baroness Shirley Williams
Baroness Williams picks the next generation of Lib Dem talent

Political reputations can be made - or broken - during the party conference season. So who are the names to watch out for this year?

We asked Liberal Democrat grandee Baroness Williams to pick her tips for the top in Bournemouth next week.

ESTABLISHED STARS

"Simon Hughes and Vincent Cable are two people who might be seen as settled stars in the party, rather than promising young things. But they have been twinkling for quite a bit," Baroness Williams says.

Of the new party president, Mr Hughes, she says: "He has a very strong sense of social justice and a fair society.

Vince Cable
Vince Cable has been "twinkling for some time"
"He will be a very good balancing force particularly against some of the more economic (minded) people in the party.

Of the second of the "old stars", the party's Treasury spokesman Mr Cable, she says: "He has shown great ability in the field of economics.

Mr Cable has won plaudits for injecting intellectual rigour into Lib Dem economic policy.

But Baroness Williams says: "Within the party there are certain concerns about whether we are going against our commitment to a fair society.

"Vincent alongside Simon makes for a good balance."

She points out that the Lib Dems' commitment to a 50% rate of tax for those earning over 100,000 and tackling the pensions crisis would help the two most poverty-hit groups on society - the elderly and single parent families.

RISING THROUGH THE RANKS

"It's emerging very clearly that Steve Webb (the party's work and pensions spokesman) is a very impressive figure indeed.

"He has a grasp of pensions and benefits that's quite unusual, he used to be a university professor at Bath on this issue.

"He really is quite staggeringly impressive in this field and has been doing well in the job for a couple of years."

Ed Davey has already reaped the rewards of work in his constituency, she says, seeing a huge increase in his majority in Kingston.

Steve Webb MP
Steve Webb has a "staggeringly impressive" grasp of pensions

"He's been working very hard on our plans to replace council tax with a local income tax and ensuring there is no trouble whatsoever with sorting out means testing."

Both these policies are key to Lib Dem plans for assisting older people.

STARS OF THE FUTURE

Baroness Williams picks out health spokesman Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb from the party's treasury team as one of the promising young stars of the future.

Of Mr Burstow she says: "He's done an awfully good job of pushing out the borders of the NHS particularly in the areas to do with personal health care. He's also looked closely at things like bed blocking.

"He's a very wonderful but also a very committed man. He has a very clear sense of what it's all about and what it's all for."

Paul  Burstow
Paul Burstow "has a clear sense of what it's all about"

Baroness Williams praises Norman Lamb's achievement in winning Norfolk North from the Tories in 2001.

"He became very effective on the international development side."

He travelled very widely in the developing world, she said, an became an effective force, but then he got a job on the treasury team where he works with Vince Cable.

WOMEN TO WATCH

Baroness Williams selects the party's spokeswoman on women Sandra Gidley and Cheadle MP Patsy Calton as two female stars who are rising steadily in what has been a very male dominated party.

Patsy Calton
The Cheadle MP holds surgeries in the streets

Mrs Gidley won her Romsey seat from the Tories in a by-election in May 2000.

It was the only seat to change hands throughout the 1997-2001 parliament and gave the party a foot-hold in the area which they hope to expand on.

Baroness Williams singles out Mrs Calton, who is on the party's health team, for praise over her "street surgeries".

"She literally goes out into the streets to hold her surgeries which obviously really improves access and it's very unusual."

Mrs Calton's constituency office says the MP has covered more than two thirds of her constituency's streets and if the election is held in May - she will have covered the whole area.



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