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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK

UK Politics

Hughes completes Lib Dem field

Simon Hughes: Fell out with Paddy Ashdown over Labour

The contest for the Liberal Democrat leadership has witnessed the final contender to join the race officially, Simon Hughes, unveiling his campaign to succeed Paddy Ashdown.

Lib Dem Leadership
Mr Hughes, the last of the six candidates to set out his stall, is known as a harsh critic of the party's pursuit of closer links with Labour - the issue which looks set to dominate the contest.

Shaun Ley reports: "Simon Hughes unveils his campaign"
And as the Lib Dems' longest-serving MP in the contest, he may have the edge over less-experienced Labour-sceptic candidates like Jackie Ballard and David Rendel.

However, the favourite in the race, Charles Kennedy, has come out strongly in favour of continuing co-operation with the government.

Mr Kennedy believes this strategy is the one most likely to achieve the Lib Dems aim of proportional representation.

He has also suggested making overtures to pro-European Tories for a cross-party campaign to promote the single currency to the public.

PR ultimatum

Mr Hughes is known to have fallen out with Mr Ashdown over the party's "project" with Labour.

This could endear him to the many grassroots Lib Dem members who are opposed to working with Tony Blair.

Mr Hughes has been reported to have said that if elected he would tell Mr Blair that the Labour-Lib Dem relationship would be in jeopardy if there was not a referendum on PR within the first half of the next parliament.

Currently, Mr Hughes heads the team of Lib Dem MPs looking after health and social welfare issues.

His leadership ambitions have been an open secret since February when he announced he would not seek to be the party's candidate for the election to be London's new mayor.

The 48-year-old MP represents the south London seat of North Southwark and Bermondsey.

He is also a committed Christian who has served on the General Synod of the Church of England.

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10 Jun 99 | Lib Dem leadership
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