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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 December 2007, 12:26 GMT
Cable: Lib Dem race 'very close'
Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne
Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne are battling to be Lib Dem leader
The race to be Liberal Democrat leader is too close to call as it enters its final stages, Vincent Cable has said.

Mr Cable, acting leader, told BBC One's Andrew Marr show it was "very close", and said he would be happy to work with either Chris Huhne or Nick Clegg.

The 64,000 Lib Dem members have until Friday to make a choice.

Mr Cable, who has received widespread praise for his performance as stand-in leader, also set out an action plan for improving UK armed forces' welfare.

He said Labour and Conservative governments had failed to maintain the military "covenant" in which governments ensure the welfare of armed forces, especially in areas such as medical care and housing.

'No excuse'

The Lib Dems are calling a debate in the Commons on Wednesday in which they will seek a more formal and accountable form of the covenant, with annual reviews in Parliament.

Mr Cable said: "The members of our armed forces give their utmost to their country and are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

It would save a lot of money that could then be ploughed back into proper housing for the troops
Vincent Cable
Acting Lib Dem leader

"There is no excuse for being cheap when dealing with their welfare."

He said: "Whenever we have to make a decision to go to war one of the key conditions would have to be that the troops are properly supported.

"The overall defence budget doesn't need to be increased. We need to change the priorities. At the moment, a lot of money's still being spent keeping the British forces in Iraq, and we would argue for a much faster withdrawal."

'Proper housing'

He added: "But there are tough choices have to be made, and we've argued, for example, that the Eurofighter contract, an enormous military contract, which dates back to the cold war and is no longer really relevant, should now be cancelled in its last stage.

"It would save a lot of money that could then be ploughed back into proper housing for the troops."

The result of the Lib Dem leadership contest - which was prompted by the resignation of Sir Menzies Campbell - is expected to be announced on Tuesday 18 December.

Mr Cable said he was happy with his decision not to contest the leadership despite the praise he has received while doing the job as a stand-in.

He said that if he had been successful it was because "I have had a clear view of what we have got to do".

This had been, on subjects such as Northern Rock, where he cast doubt on the chances of a private sale, to challenge the consensus view between the Conservatives and Labour, he said.



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