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Last Updated: Friday, 24 February 2006, 17:22 GMT
I won't scare off Tories - Hughes
Simon Hughes
Simon Hughes says his campaign is still alive
Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Simon Hughes has said he will not scare off former Conservative voters.

Mr Hughes is seen as the most left-wing of the contenders but insisted he could appeal to ex-Tory and Labour voters - and people who had not voted at all.

He began as frontrunner, but is now behind Chris Huhne and Sir Menzies Campbell in the bookmakers' odds.

But Mr Hughes said his campaign was as strong as ever and argued that some of his rivals' chances had been overrated.

That will be seen as a veiled dig at Mr Huhne, who only became an MP last year and is now the bookies' favourite to win.

'Still strong'

Mr Hughes ran into trouble when he had to apologise for misleading people by denying he was gay. He admitted he had in the past had relationships with both men and women.

He told BBC Radio 4's World At One he "absolutely" thought he could still win the leadership contest.

"There was a couple of difficult days, a couple of difficult weeks for the party but, just as the party has recovered, so I believe my campaign is as strong as ever and growing," he said.

"I just warn the commentators not sometimes to overrate some campaigns of some colleagues. It is the voters who will decide."

His comments came as Sir Menzies said Mr Huhne appeared to have been the "darling of the media".

"But then he is a former journalist and perhaps that's understandable," he told GMTV in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday.

The acting leader instead stressed his own "experience, maturity and judgement".

Sir Menzies also suggested Mr Huhne's credibility might be damaged by the fact he had supported him first and then decided to run himself.

Mr Huhne says he is neither indecisive nor devious.

'Leading with passion'

Mr Hughes said he did not think he would put off some Lib Dem voters who had switched from the Conservatives.

He had grown up in "traditionally Conservative voting communities" and had fought for fairness in areas where Labour had failed.

"I have experience of both," he said.

Mr Hughes promised a different kind of leadership.

He explained: "It would be a leadership that wouldn't be Westminster-based. It would be a leadership with passion, reaching out to the people who've never voted for us, but I promise you that it would be a leadership that would unite the party."

The leadership candidates staged their final hustings of the campaign on Thursday evening.

The 73,000 Lib Dem members have until 1 March to select a new leader, with the result due the next day.


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