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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 January 2006, 16:26 GMT
Lib Dem contenders address party
Mark Oaten, Chris Huhne, Simon Hughes and Sir Menzies Campbell
All four contenders presented their vision for the future of their party
All four Liberal Democrat leadership candidates have told party activists why they should get the job.

In 12-minute speeches, they stated why they should succeed Charles Kennedy.

Sir Menzies Campbell said the Lib Dems needed to be more ambitious and tackle poverty. Simon Hughes said he wanted it to be the party of fairness.

Chris Huhne called for a radical rise in eco-taxes to help reduce greenhouse gases and Mark Oaten said only the Lib Dems could fight for British liberties.

ELECTION TIMETABLE
25 January - nominations close
6 February - ballot papers sent out
1 March - vote closes
2 March - result announced

The back-to-back speeches were given at the London School of Economics.

Mr Huhne, 51, an MP for just eight months, joined the race on Friday.

The conference was planned well before Mr Kennedy's sudden departure.

Acting leader Sir Menzies - a long-time deputy to Mr Kennedy - is believed to have the backing of more than a third of the party's 62 MPs.

I want a radical, democratic revolution
Sir Menzies Campbell

On Saturday, the 64-year-old said wanted to affirm his belief in the cause of liberalism that had "inspired and dominated" his life.

"I want new thinking to liberate thousands of families locked in poverty. I want new thinking to reward environmentally friendly technology.

"I want new thinking to ensure that every child with a talent - regardless of colour or creed, gender or sexual orientation, can become a QC or an Olympic athlete," he said.

"I want a radical, democratic revolution," added Mr Campbell, who won some applause with a promise to welcome Charles Kennedy back to the Liberal Democrat front benches.

Chris Huhne was previously a member of the European Parliament for six years.

The sugar on the pill of higher eco-taxes must be lower personal taxes
Chris Huhne

He advocated a radical increase in eco-taxes as the only viable way of cutting carbon emissions.

"Eco-taxes also raise revenue, that can be directed at the most needed," he said.

"The sugar on the pill of higher eco-taxes must be lower personal taxes directed at the bottom end and fulfilling our fairness agenda."

Mr Huhne added that he would try to ensure the party's MPs were more representative of the communities they served.

Party president Simon Hughes is making his second attempt at the leadership, after being beaten by Mr Kennedy in 1999.

I want a society where people don't feel trapped or oppressed
Simon Hughes

He emphasised freedom and fairness when he addressed party members, stressing that the party would continue to offer tax-raising policies under his leadership in a bid to address inequalities in society.

"I want a society where people don't feel trapped or oppressed.

"I want a country which enables everybody to achieve their potential - not a country which leaves them frustrated and unfulfilled," he said.

And, making clear his intention to redistribute wealth, he added: "It is a disgrace that the poorest in our country pay a higher percentage of their income in tax than do the richest.

"Liberal Democrats were right to fight the last election on a promise to spend more wisely and to tax more fairly and I want to stick to that."

We must start today by ending this sterile debate about left and right
Mark Oaten

Meanwhile, Mark Oaten positioned himself as a defender of liberal values saying the party must have "the courage to stick to our principles" on issues such as the opposition to identity cards and the defence of civil liberties.

"Our party needs to be more progressive, more ambitious and more optimistic - and to do this, we must start today by ending this sterile debate about left and right.

"The future of this party isn't about moving to the left or the right - that is the political language of the past."

And he was the only candidate to suggest that the parliamentary party had "let down" ordinary Liberal Democrats and owed them an apology for its show of disunity.

There will be a postal ballot of the party's 73,000 members, with the new leader named on 2 March, a day before the party's spring conference opens in Harrogate.




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