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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006, 12:38 GMT
Sir Menzies wins Royal Mail vote
Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies won the leadership in a ballot of the whole party
Sir Menzies Campbell has scored his first victory as Liberal Democrat leader after party members backed the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail.

The party conference overwhelmingly endorsed proposals to sell off 49% of Royal Mail to raise money to safeguard the future of post offices.

The plan was rejected last year by the party's autumn conference in Blackpool.

But Sir Menzies had urged party activists to back the policy, stressing it was not "Thatcherite".

'Common sense'

His backing is being seen as a nod to the party's free market wing - and a sign of the direction in which he will take it.

Sir Menzies said it was a "mature and common sense" decision by party members.

"It was a good debate and a clear cut decision on the part of the party. Something has got to be done about the post office and we are willing to do it," he said.

We need fresh ideas and new thinking
Sir Menzies Campbell

Similar plans caused a row at last year's Lib Dem conference. Delegates refused to endorse the plans then, leading to a watered-down version being put before the party's spring conference in Harrogate.

A party spokesman said: "This was a key issue about whether we want to build a platform for the next General Election rather than cling to policies for presentational reasons.

"This issue has become totemic...

"It shows we are serious about building a platform for the next election."

The plans would see Post Office Ltd split from the Royal Mail Group. The Post Office would stay in public control.

The Royal Mail would then go into shared ownership with a 51% majority of shares divided equally between the government and a trust for staff.

Half of the remaining 49% would be sold directly to staff and small investors and the remaining shares would be offered for sale to the market.

The proceeds of the sale - expected to be up to 2bn - would be used to safeguard the future of the Post Office network and the universal service obligation which the Lib Dems say are under threat from Labour.

Reshuffle

Sir Menzies is expected to carry out a reshuffle of the party's front bench team on Monday, but he has said he will not offer his predecessor Charles Kennedy a job.

In forming a front bench team, Sir Menzies is likely to consider what role defeated leadership rivals Mr Hughes and Mr Huhne should play and whether or not to reward those who supported his campaign.

Backers included Ed Davey, Sarah Teather, Vincent Cable, Nick Clegg and David Laws.

The post of deputy leader - which Sir Menzies himself held as well as being foreign affairs spokesman - has yet to be decided upon.

He is due to make his first major speech as leader on Sunday.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Liberal Democrats vote on the plans



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