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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2006, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Is best to come for Kennedy?
Sketch
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Well what did they expect? Charles Kennedy to walk out onto the stage and give a halfhearted, deliberately mediocre speech so as not to upstage his leader?

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy won ovations from conference
Frankly - apart from not addressing the conference at all - what else could the former leader have done than give it his best shot. Which is what he did.

Looking relaxed and healthy and speaking for the most part without notes, he paced the conference platform to deliver precisely the sort of speech he might well have given if he was still the party leader, only shorter.

No need to get into how his performances compare to the likes of Tony Blair, David Cameron or Gordon Brown. This speech needed only to be compared to his own previous performances - and it was up there with some of his best.

He didn't, as some had speculated beforehand, bare his soul or come over all repentant.

He certainly didn't throw any spears, disguised or otherwise, at Sir Menzies - who sat in the audience appearing just as enthralled as the majority of the rest of the conference and leading the standing ovations.

He did offer the party some advice on its agenda, which included his own favourites of Europe and more constitutional reform.

Job application

He supported his successor's green taxation scheme, without suggesting he was disappointed that his own 50p tax rate proposal had been abandoned.

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies led the applause for Kennedy
And he delivered stinging attacks on David Cameron and Tony Blair and George Bush.

But, mostly, this speech was as billed - it was Mr Kennedy's comeback speech. It was designed to show that he was indeed back, presumably recovered and with the past firmly behind him.

He may have set the bar quite high for Sir Menzies' big speech on Thursday - but not so high that his successor, helped by his victory over taxation, should not be able to clear it.

It was, in other words, a speech really all about Charles Kennedy and his future.

It might have been seen as a job application, if it was not for the fact Sir Menzies has already publicly promised him he can have a job whenever he feels ready to take one on.

And from the reception he got - two standing ovations - it appears the party want him back on the frontbench sooner rather than later.

So, when Mr Kennedy told the conference "the best is yet to come" there must have been many who hoped he was speaking about himself as much as the party.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk




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