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On the Spot with
Charles Kennedy interviewed by Nick Assinder
 real 28k

Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 15:03 GMT
On the spot: Charles Kennedy

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy answered your questions live on BBC News Online in a live webcast on Thursday 9 March.

During the interview with BBC News Online's Nick Assinder, Mr Kennedy said that with the shine coming off the government and William Hague's Tories making no progress, 2000 was a year of great potential for the Liberal Democrats.

He said that just over six months into his leadership, he wanted the party to be seen as an independently-minded party and that he was quite sure that they could win more seats at the next General Election.

Reflecting on taking over the party from Paddy Ashdown, Mr Kennedy said that it was always going to be difficult to build up a profile quickly - but that he would rather be a "slow burning fuse" than someone, like William Hague, known for wearing a "baseball cap while going down a water chute".

And turning to the London Mayoral campaign, he said that the party's candidate Susan Kramer had suffered from a lack of exposure because of Labour's internal row - but he would not be casting a second preference vote for another candidate.

Charles Kennedy was one of the Westminster winners of 1999 when he beat his rivals to the head of the Liberal Democrats when Paddy Ashdown stepped down.

In August last year he comfortably won the contest and inherited a party which had at long last made a crucial leap into government through its coalition with Labour in the Scottish Parliament.

The party also co-operates with the government on a series of issues such as constitutional matters, foreign policy and defence.

The party has 46 MPs, the biggest third party representation since the war and a core of MEPs.

In recent years it has made significant gains in local elections, and now controls councils in the former Labour heartlands of Sheffield and Liverpool.

But some observers believe Mr Kennedy has yet to make his mark as party leader.

To the anger of many in his party, especially at grassroots level, Mr Kennedy refused to rule out greater cross-party greater co-operation.

But Mr Kennedy has also insisted he would not be Tony Blair's poodle and the marked difference between Labour and the Lib Dems over proportional representation could end the closer co-operation between the two parties.

That co-operation with Labour has also led to many observers asking what role Mr Kennedy's party now has as Labour leaders seek to hold on to the middle ground.

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