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Monday, 10 July, 2000, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Kennedy: 'Campaign against Tories'
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy
Kennedy: Tories would be 'absolute and unmitigated disaster'
Charles Kennedy has told Liberal Democrats to step up their election campaigning against the Tories, and implied they should tone down their attacks on Labour.

Speaking at the National Liberal Club in London, Mr Kennedy acknowledged that he was disappointed in Labour, but stressed the alternative - a Tory government - would be "an absolute and unmitigated disaster".

He said that his party might gain votes from disillusioned Tory supporters more than from disillusioned Labour ones.

He said the public had been alarmed by William Hague's recent policy statements.

"What an alarming bunch," he said.

"Make no mistake, I'm disappointed in Labour. But William Hague's Conservatives in government would be a disaster.

An absolute and unmitigated disaster."

Targeting Tories

Mr Kennedy will be aware his party stands to gain more Tory seats than Labour ones at the next election.

Of the 54 marginal seats most vulnerable to a swing to the Liberal Democrats, only nine are held by Labour and the rest by the Conservatives.

In the two most recent by-elections the Lib Dems have picked up votes from the Tories, winning Romsey from them and pushing them into third place in Tottenham.

Tax pledge

Mr Kennedy singled out for particular criticism the Tory pledge to cut the overall burden of taxation during the next Parliament, no matter what the economic circumstances.

"Quite simply, their policies at the moment do not add up.

"And the more they come under scrutiny, the more their spending plans seem at odds with their plans to cut taxes.

"That approach cannot be allowed to win the day," he insisted, and said this would form the bedrock of the Liberal Democrats' campaign strategy.

But Mr Kennedy also made it clear that he was setting his sights on the election after next as the Lib Dems' real chance to make an impact on policy and the constitution.

He said three things had to happen before then if that goal was to be achieved.

Proportional representation

Firstly, the voting system for Westminster elections had to be changed to one based on proportional representation.

Mr Kennedy argued that for the moment, winning the argument for the principle of PR was more important than deciding on which of the various systems was chosen.

A source close to Mr Kennedy stressed that he was not signalling a readiness to accept the compromise of the Alternative Vote (AV) system floated last month by Peter Mandelson.

Under the AV system, electors rank candidates in order of preference.

If none gets 50% of the first choices, the votes of the least popular candidates are redistributed until one has the support of at least half the voters.

The system is not proportional and in fact tends to exaggerate electoral swings, giving the winning party a bigger share of seats than it got in votes.

Mr Kennedy did reserve some criticism for the government, saying its concern with "spin above substance" had generated "an Alice in Wonderland political world" in which the electorate was increasingly mistrustful of politicians.

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See also:

15 May 00 | UK Politics
Tories are the 'enemy' - Kennedy
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05 Jul 00 | UK Politics
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22 Jun 00 | UK Politics
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Kennedy to woo anti-Tory vote
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