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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 20:00 GMT 21:00 UK
Ming's 100 days policy blitz
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Two words, above others, have attached themselves to Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell from virtually the moment he became party leader - old and disappointing.

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies faced attacks over performance
It may be unfair - and it is certainly the case that, even at 65, the former Olympic sprinter is fitter than many half his age - but in an era of ever-more youthful political leaders, the ageism was probably inevitable.

And he has readily taken the blame himself for disappointing performances, particularly in the Commons, in the first few months of his leadership.

Now, however, he is determined to move on and is using the occasion of his approaching 100th day in the job to map out the direction in which he aims to lead his party and take on David Cameron and, presumably, Gordon Brown at the next election.

He is setting out some detailed policy directions that, he hopes, will end any sniping at his leadership and demonstrate he has got a grip on the party and a clear vision of where he intends to lead it, and the energy to do it.

And that is to put some real distance between the Lib Dems and the other two parties, while at the same time seeking to attract voters from both Labour and Tory camps.

Tight rein

Specifically, on the single most important issue of tax and spend, he is proposing a headline grabbing 2p cut in the basic rate, funded by big green taxes and a 13 billion take from the most wealthy second home and share owners - all combined with a tight rein on spending.

It is a deliberately redistributive, environment-friendly and radical move to fill the gap left by the abandonment of the previous, controversial policy of a 50p top tax rate on the wealthiest.

It is being described as the ditching of the old, leftish "tax and spend" in favour of a new "save and spend" policy designed to appeal to a wider electorate.

Simon Hughes
Hughes suggested Ming would be judged
As for his own performance, the criticism stemmed primarily from shaky appearances during prime minister's questions when he appeared unsure of himself and easily distracted.

The most lethal attack came when he was asking about pensions reform only to be barracked by late Tory MP Eric Forth to "declare an interest".

The most recent session, however, saw him deliver one of his best performances yet on the solid liberal issue of rendition flights. He will want to keep that up to combat claims he has lost some of his old natural authority.

Next election

There is still a big task ahead, however. Despite the sensational Dunfermline by-election victory over Labour shortly after his election, the party did not fare well in May's local elections.

That gave rise to some speculation that he might turn into a caretaker leader, seen only as a vehicle to steer the Lib Dems towards the next election before a new, younger candidate could take over.

He has already admitted slapping down failed leadership contender Simon Hughes for suggesting he would be "judged" at this year's autumn conference.

But he knows that there are rumblings against him, sparked to a large extent by David Cameron's youth and move on to the centre ground, and they need to be silenced.

His "100-days announcement" is meant to be the first step along that path.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


SEE ALSO:
Lib Dems will cut tax - Campbell
07 Jun 06 |  UK Politics
Lib Dem leader confronts ex-rival
21 May 06 |  UK Politics
Sir Menzies 'wants to do better'
18 May 06 |  UK Politics
Sir Menzies defending his record
14 May 06 |  UK Politics
'Too soon' to judge Sir Menzies
13 May 06 |  UK Politics


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