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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Kennedy silences critics - for now
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News Website

After a week of escalating leadership speculation, Charles Kennedy knew he had to deliver a powerful, even job-securing speech to his Blackpool conference.

Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy faces down his party critics
So, in what aides described as a highly personal address, he attempted to paint the clearest picture yet of what he stood for, what motivated him from the day he first won the party's "trust" and where a Kennedy government would lead Britain.

He also mapped out his intention of stepping up his assault on the government over its "illiberal" anti-terror laws, and its self-inflicted crisis over Iraq.

He even went so far as to claim the Bush-Blair "so-called war on terror" had been so badly implemented that it had actually boosted the terror threat, not diminished it.

And he sought once again to shrug off as outdated and irrelevant the attempts to fit the Lib Dems somewhere into the left-right spectrum, instead offering a defiantly liberal alternative to the old parties.

Critics

His pledge not to allow the Lib Dems to turn into a third conservative party won one of the biggest cheers from the conference.

As did his stinging assault on Tony Blair acting as George Bush's "apologist" over climate change.

But all that had to wait until he had attempted to stamp his authority on his party and slap down his internal critics, insisting he would lead them into the next general election.

In a direct reference to those individuals muttering about his leadership, he delivered a stinging rebuke, claiming they were "so full of themselves they also think they're full of better ideas about leadership".

In fact he was the one with the experience and maturity to offer real leadership.

It was a relatively brief section at the start of a speech which took time building to any real passion, and which he had been crafting virtually to the last moment.

Anger

And, while it was a particularly dismissive response to his detractors, it still raised the question of whether it was a wise strategy.

There are those in the party arguing that each time he addresses the issue he only ensures it runs for even longer.

But there is also genuine anger among some sections of the party about the briefing against Mr Kennedy that has been going on.

Lord Greaves' angry call for the party leadership to serve Asbos on those MPs undermining Mr Kennedy was an example of that anger.

It is also probably the case that those of Mr Kennedy's MPs who are behind the briefings are unlikely to stop it - although they might be a little more discreet than of late.

Opposition

And the danger is that, once the initial post-conference glow has cooled, it will be back to business as usual.

But what Mr Kennedy certainly did in his 45 minute speech was set himself some stiff challenges which, if he can meet them by "upping his game", may indeed secure his leadership through to the next election.

They amounted to completing his stated task of turning the Liberal Democrats into the only realistic party of opposition to Labour.

It is a task that will have to start showing real signs of completion over the next couple of years if Mr Kennedy is to avoid future sniping at his leadership.




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