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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Kennedy says Blair costing lives
Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy hardened his tone over the Iraq conflict

Tony Blair's pride and his "blind support" for George Bush are costing lives in Iraq, says Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy told the Lib Dem conference in Blackpool the presence of UK troops in Iraq was now part of the problem.

And he claimed the "war on terror" had increased the threat of terrorism.

He also insisted he would lead the Lib Dems into the next election and attacked people who thought they had "better ideas" about leadership.

They were "full of themselves", he said, promising to go on leading the party in a "genuine, sensible and mature way".

Mr Kennedy also moved to reassure activists worried the party could become more right-wing, saying he would not turn the Lib Dems into "yet another conservative party in British politics".

Liberation 'myth'

The speech saw the Lib Dem leader harden his rhetoric on Iraq as he derided Mr Blair's attempts to "move on" from debate on the Iraq war.

He said: "You cannot move on, when the prime minister remains in denial.

"You can't move on when people are dying every day. And you cannot move on when our British troops are still in the firing line.

The prime minister's pride should not get in the way of finding a solution for the people of Iraq
Charles Kennedy

"After this week's events in Basra we cannot sustain the myth that Iraqis see coalition troops as liberators. What they see is an occupation.

"The prime minister's pride should not get in the way of finding a solution for the people of Iraq.

"His blind support for George Bush is continuing to cost lives - Iraqi citizens and coalition soldiers.

"It's time he laid out before Parliament a proper, structured exit strategy for the phased withdrawal of British forces from Iraq."

'Time to withdraw'

Mr Kennedy said British troops had "served with distinction, courage and great skill" but made a personal appeal to Mr Blair to bring them home.

"Please listen, as you didn't before, to millions of people in our country, who are asking louder and louder as every day goes by - 'when can our troops go home?'

And he said George Bush and Mr Blair's "so-called war on terror has been so badly implemented that it has actually boosted the terror threat not diminished it".

'Denial'

A late addition to Mr Kennedy's highly personal speech saw him defend his leadership.

He spoke of his own liberal values and his party's position as the "clear alternative to a discredited Labour government".

"Others may have become so full of themselves that they also think they are full of better ideas about the leadership.

"But based on experience that direction will, for me, remain the definition of good, genuine, mature political leadership."

Turning to the government's proposed anti-terror laws, he accused Mr Blair of playing politics with the leaders of the opposition parties by appearing to include them in discussions, then attempting to "spin" the outcome.

The government has now revealed its proposals and the Lib Dems would not accept what was on offer, he said.

"There can be no consensus on detaining people for three months without charge. That's a prison sentence by any other name".

He also promised to oppose a new offence of "glorifying terrorism" on the grounds it would not stand up in court.

In a week when the party leadership has been defeated on proposals to cap spending on Europe and part-privatise the Royal Mail, Mr Kennedy received loud applause when he pledged not to transform the Lib Dems into "another Conservative party".

He also spoke up in favour of proportional representation, saying Mr Blair's "final defence" on Iraq was that the war would "help establish democracy".

That argument, Mr Kennedy, said "would have been a damn sight more persuasive if he had started here in Britain first."


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