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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK
Kennedy denies plans to step down
Charles Kennedy

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has denied there is any truth to stories that he had decided to stand down after the next general election.

He added that he wanted to remain leader as he had "something to input".

The Lib Dems are gathering in Blackpool for their conference, having secured 62 seats in May's election - the greatest share since 1923.

Conservative leadership contender Ken Clarke has said the Lib Dems are threatening to overtake the Tories.

Since the election there have been mutterings about Mr Kennedy's leadership, but he said this would be a very positive week for the Liberal Democrats.

The party must be "part of the whole story" of UK politics, Mr Kennedy said.

When challenged about how long he wanted to remain leader, Mr Kennedy said: "As long as I feel that I have got something to input in this role for the Liberal Democrats, I want to do it.

'Raising the barrier'

"And as long as I feel enthusiastic for it, committed to it, and I feel we have further achievements ahead of us, that's something I am up for."

One of the proposals to go before delegates is to raise the number of MPs needed to back a leadership bid from just two members to "at least 10%" of the party in the Commons.

Mr Kennedy said: "It seems a sensible time to debate it. We need to set the barrier a bit higher for the number of candidates, now that we have so many more MPs."

It was a "very, very minor leadership rule change".

The Conservative Party is in quite a critical state and the Liberal Democrats ... are breathing down our necks
Ken Clarke

Mr Kennedy also played down the possibility of a pact with the Conservative Party, should there be a hung parliament the next election, particularly if Ken Clarke won the leadership contest.

He said: "I just don't see that happening at all. That's not on the agenda.

"I have no idea who the next leader of the Conservative Party is going to be."

There were "many fundamental differences between ourselves and the Conservatives", which was in "a period of historic stagnation".

Meanwhile, Tory leadership hopeful Ken Clarke told the BBC's Sunday AM programme: "The Conservative Party is in quite a critical state and the Liberal Democrats... are breathing down our necks.

"They will overtake us if we don't make ourselves the principal and obvious alternative government at the next election."

Real alternative?

The Liberal Democrats had to offer a "credible alternative, in terms of national politics to a much higher extent than has been the case before".

However, while a good result it was not quite the great leap forward which some within the party had hoped for.

The party has started a review of its policies, such as replacing the council tax with a local income tax.

There will also be debate this week about where the Lib Dems should position themselves in order to make further progress.

The gathering is being held under the party's general election slogan "The Real Alternative".

The issues likely to be discussed at the conference

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