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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2006, 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK
Lib Dems on Kennedy's 'comeback'
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, Brighton

"It was the old Charles, back to his best."

Sandra Kramer
Charles is one of us' - Sandra Kramer

There is something about Charles Kennedy that pushes all the right buttons for Liberal Democrats.

And the former leader's return to the party conference was greeted with predictable warmth by delegates in Brighton.

It was not quite the Kennedymania that greeted his earlier entrance to the conference centre.

But people seemed genuinely pleased to see him - and they were still clapping and cheering as he was led from the hall at the end of his speech.

They were just not sure he is quite ready to return to the fray full time - if that is indeed what he wants.

And any talk of rivalry with the man who succeeded him and who is due to make his own keynote speech on Thursday, Sir Menzies Campbell, was met with the sighing and rolling of eyes delegates reserve for such questions.

Their first loyalty is to Ming now.

'Warm reception'

"I think he looked very good physically. I was very happy to see him," said Sandra Kramer of Mr Kennedy.

I thought it was a farewell speech from a politician who is leaving the scene
Lord Ashdown

"He got a very warm reception. He is one of us. He is one of the family. The sense you get of the party when you are on the inside is very different to the one you get from media. It is a family.

"He looks very relaxed. But from what I know of anybody who has a drink problem, it is very difficult to stop," she added.

Europe

Barry Coward, who said he had been in the party for more than 40 years, said: "It was the old Charles, back to his best."

Siobahn Mathers
Siobhan Mathers does not think Mr Kennedy is ready for a comeback

But he was not sure Mr Kennedy would ever return to the party's front bench.

"Perhaps he could do something in Europe. It is his big thing."

Siobhan Mather, a prospective parliamentary candidate in central Scotland, also thought the ex-leader needed more time to recuperate.

"He is not ready yet," she said.

"It wasn't a speech that a leader would make. It wasn't a comeback speech."

Comeback?

There was disagreement too among party grandees about exactly what kind of speech Mr Kennedy had made.

Was it a comeback or a farewell?

"I thought it was a farewell speech from a politician who is leaving the scene.

"Charles will now have to decide how to re-enter politics at some point in the future," said former leader Lord Ashdown.

He refused to comment further.

But Baroness Williams, former leader of the party in the Lords, disagreed entirely with Lord Ashdown's assessment.

"I thought it was a speech saying I am dedicated to the cause. I am not coming back right away but I still want to be involved.

"I just thought what an extraordinarily gifted man and what a great pity it was that he fell prey to this illness, alcoholism."

She said it was "unlikely but not impossible" that Mr Kennedy would become Lib Dem leader again at some point in the future.

But he was clearly keen to return to the fray in next year's Scottish elections, she added.




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