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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 20:52 GMT
Broad themes mark Campbell debut
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News Website

Ming Campbell swept into Harrogate shortly after a major snowstorm had beaten him to it and several hours after he was forced to abandon the train in favour of his car.

Ming Campbell
Snow and transport problems did not stop Mr Campbell

It was, however, going to take a bit more than bitter winds, driving snow and rail cancellations to stop his progress into the town staging his victory rally - but they did their best.

Four hours after he was supposed to arrive, triumphant, in Harrogate, he finally made it without a hint of the fury and hair-tearing frustration mere mortals would have been displaying.

There were any number of stories of delegates battling the conditions to get to the Liberal Democrats' spring conference.

Worse for many of them was the infuriating fact that after braving white-outs and motorway mayhem, they got to the victory rally only to be refused entry.

Packed venue

The room booked for the event in the conference hotel was not the largest available, meaning it was packed to bursting point long before the new leader had arrived.

Was this, as some suspected, a cunning ploy to make it look like Ming had packed the venue?

If it was, and it's a big if, it backfired badly as scores of delegates and visitors were left to watch his brief remarks from the television sets in the bar.

And what they all wanted to hear was precisely where Sir Menzies Campbell - one of the most respected and certainly veteran party member - was going to lead them.

Right-wing signs?

There may have been some signs.

It appeared significant that he used this briefest of speeches to announce his support for a controversial policy on the future of the post office - already once rejected by the party grassroots and, as he has admitted himself, seen by many as a "Thatcherite privatisation".

Was this the right-wing, economic liberal shape of things to come?

The delegates will have to wait a bit longer for the answer to that question. Some of it may well come in his big end-of-conference speech on Sunday.

Reviews due

Some - probably the majority and certainly the most important, such as taxation - will have to wait until the outcome of the ongoing policy reviews.

For one night, it was all about Ming rehearsing the broad themes that marked his campaign and which, frankly, have avoided the big specifics.

But, as far as most delegates were concerned, that was probably enough - for now.


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