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Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 22:47 GMT
Voters want Kennedy back - poll
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, Lib Dem spring conference, Harrogate

Sir Menzies Campbell
Voters want Charles Kennedy back as Liberal Democrat leader, a poll for BBC Two's Newsnight suggests.

Mr Kennedy was forced out last year after admitting a drink problem.

But 49% of those questioned thought he would be a better leader than Sir Menzies Campbell - who polled 22% in the ICM survey of 1,005 people.

It comes as Sir Menzies marked his first year in charge with an attack on Tony Blair's record on crime at the party's spring conference in Harrogate.

Sir Menzies told delegates only the Lib Dems had the answer to cutting crime.

Compensation

"Tony Blair's legacy on law and order is one of tough talk and spectacular failure.

"Effective criminal justice should deter crime and reform the criminal. But the reality is that Labour has failed on both counts," said Sir Menzies.

He called for more police on the streets, paid for by scrapping ID cards and an end to freeing criminals before the end of their sentence.

"Life should mean life," he said, but added, "only for those who judges believe should spend the rest of their lives in prison."

He also called for compulsory work in prisons to fund victims' compensation.

'PR exercise'

The Lib Dems are attempting to seize the initiative on domestic issues such as crime, often seen as one of their weaker policy areas, ahead of May's elections in Scotland, Wales and English local authorities.

The party's home affairs spokesman, Nick Clegg, tipped by some as a future leader, opened the rally with a stinging attack on Labour who he said treated the issue as a "piffling PR exercise".

He mocked Home Secretary John Reid for trying to "catch headlines not criminals".

He said he was launching a website, Home Office watch, to catalogue examples of government incompetence.

He also rounded on David Cameron's Conservative Party, accusing them of shifting their position on crime.

"They don't know whether to hug a hoodie or send them to prison," he told the conference.

Election

Earlier Sir Menzies said he had steadied the Lib Dem ship after a turbulent period in its history and was now ready to move it on to another level.

He brushed off criticism of his leadership style, telling the BBC he would be judged on his party's "overall performance".

It would take a general election for voters to get to know him properly, he also said.

The Newsnight poll - carried out by ICM over the past two days - suggested he still had much work to do.

The poll - carried out in the past two days - found just 6% believed Sir Menzies would make the best prime minister, compared with 28% for Gordon Brown and 29% for David Cameron.

On Saturday, Sir Menzies faces a further leadership test with a grassroots rebellion against his proposals to put off a decision on the future of the Trident nuclear missile system until 2014.


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