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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 January 2006, 21:55 GMT
Kennedy vows to fight for his job
Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy has promised "direct and aggressive" leadership of the Liberal Democrats as he faces mounting pressure over his future.

One Lib Dem MP, Alistair Carmichael, has said Mr Kennedy should force a confidence vote next week.

Another MP, Susan Kramer, wants a full leadership election to clear the air.

Mr Kennedy said a contest would be a huge "self-inflicted distraction" but he would fight to keep his job if a vote was called.

He said the whole party should "up its game" and be emboldened by the arrival of a new Conservative leader.

Ex-London mayoral candidate Ms Kramer told BBC News the Liberal Democrats had "lost control" of the leadership issue and hostile newspapers were trying to keep it alive.

The fluff and nonsense of the honeymoon period of the new Conservative leadership should embolden the Lib Dems
Charles Kennedy

She said it was time for a leadership election so there could be a "ringing endorsement" of Mr Kennedy, or his successor, within weeks.

Mr Carmichael did not back that idea but said it was worth Mr Kennedy considering forcing a confidence vote of Lib Dem MPs and peers next week.

He said the vote would allow Mr Kennedy to continue with the authority of the parliamentary party behind him, or start a leadership election.

Style change?

Lib Dem president Simon Hughes has said Mr Kennedy has to show he still wanted the leadership "in his heart and in his mind" to win his colleagues' confidence.

But he told the Times newspaper Mr Kennedy had to be allowed to lead the party into the local elections in May.

His comments follow criticism by Lord McNally who said Mr Kennedy needed a radical change in style.

It is perfectly obvious to me and anyone else that the membership are overwhelmingly of the view that I should continue as leader, and that is my gut conviction as well
Charles Kennedy

Mr Kennedy later told Channel 4 News he would not call a leadership election and would stand as a candidate if MPs forced a vote.

He also warned it could not be conducted quickly and would almost entirely occupy the party until the local elections in May.

"There is not a desire in our party for a leadership election," he said, adding it would be an "unnecessary distraction" and a "great mistake".

Mr Kennedy insisted he had the support of Lib Dem MPs and the overwhelming backing of party members.

"It is perfectly obvious to me and anyone else that the membership are overwhelmingly of the view that I should continue as leader, and that is my gut conviction as well."

'Aggressive leadership'

Mr Kennedy said his party should see an opportunity, not a threat, in the arrival of David Cameron as Conservative leader.

"The fluff and nonsense of the honeymoon period of the new Conservative leadership, far from endangering the Lib Dems, should embolden the Lib Dems," he said.

"That's what we are going to do and we are going to do it under my direct and aggressive leadership."

Is this the bravery of the condemned man or the words of one who's really decided to 'raise his game'?

Mr Kennedy said the Tories were trying to inherit the mantle of Blairism - and he did not want to fight for that territory.

He accused a small number of people of damaging the party through anonymous briefings to the media.

"The parliamentary party quite accepts that collectively we all need to up our game in the New Year, having had time to take account of the changes going on around about us politically in the last few months," he said.

Mr Kennedy promised "a clearly planned set of initiatives" for the coming weeks, including a major speech to tackle the philosophical debate in the party over social liberalism or economic liberalism issues.

The results of the Lib Dem policy review would also be published, he said.

Asked about complaints from some of his colleagues that he drinks too much, Mr Kennedy replied: "If there's a perception about an anxiety on that front there need not be."

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