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EDITIONS
Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
'Join Lib Dems,' Kennedy tells Tories
Charles Kennedy speaking
Kennedy outlines the future to Liberal Democrats
Charles Kennedy has wound up his party's annual conference with an appeal to disaffected Tories to join the Liberal Democrats.

In a speech that saw him regularly interrupted by applause, Mr Kennedy appealed directly to Conservative voters, telling them that he shared many of their values.


William Hague is not the serious leader of a serious party

Charles Kennedy
He also rounded on Labour, accusing the government of having "a poverty of ambition" and saying that the Lib Dems were not to the right or left of Labour, but ahead of it.

Mr Kennedy defended Lib Dem policy to raise income tax, arguing that voters would trust a party that was honest with them.

'Desperate for a headline'

But his strongest words were aimed at the Tories.

"Today, I want to address the millions of previous Conservative voters who feel that William Hague's party offers them nothing. I share many of the values, the beliefs, the concerns of the people who used to be called one-nation Conservatives.


With a parliamentary majority of 179 [Labour] behave like John Major did with a majority of three

Charles Kennedy
"Tolerance, decency, fair play. If you believe those things and you look at your party and it's not got room any more at the top table for the likes of Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten then your party's got no room for you," he said.

The plight of such middle of the road Tories could be blamed squarely on Conservative leader William Hague whom Mr Kennedy accused of "jumping in with both feet... desperate for a headline".

"William Hague is not the serious leader of a serious party - that's the serious point."

Voters 'disillusioned' with Labour

Mr Kennedy - his sights firmly set on the next election - also made a play for voters disillusioned with the Labour government, which he accused of "a poverty of ambition".

He said: "With a parliamentary majority of 179 they behave like John Major did with a majority of three.

"It's all about what will play well in the opinion polls."

Referring to the Labour's 1997 general election anthem "Things can only get better" Mr Kennedy asked: "Did you believe, that things could only get better? And have they for you, for your family, your community, your local school, your local hospital?

"Millions of people believed it. Millions of people are disappointed.

"The Conservatives won't improve these things for you but the Liberal Democrats can - we can improve a lot on Labour."

Mr Kennedy said the Liberal Democrats were "ahead of Labour", not to the left or right of it.

Lib Dem promises

And he stoutly defended his party's new plans to raise the top rate of income tax to 50% for those earning over 100,000 annually, reminding the delegates that this new rate "was still less than the self same people were paying under Margaret Thatcher".


This is what we will deliver: a truly modern, truly free 21st century Britain

Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy then listed how the Liberal Democrats would spend the British taxpayers' money.

Most popular with delegates was his pledge to scrap tuition fees for higher education - already achieved by Liberal Democrats in the devolved Scottish parliament - and to re-introduce free eye and dental check-ups on the NHS.

"That's why patients need the Liberal Democrats," he said.

Mr Kennedy also referred to the one moment in the conference week when delegates came near to inflicting an embarassing defeat on the party leadership over pensions.

Rebel delegates had backed a motion to restore the link between pensions and average earnings, but in the end the leadership prevailed with their policy of increasing the pension by a minimum of 5 per week.

Pensioners, Mr Kennedy said, had been "forgotten and insulted by Gordon Brown".

Pride in his party

He said it was the Liberal government under Lloyd George that had introduced pensions "and today we retain that commitment to a decent pension for all."

In his only reference to the recent fuel crisis in Britain in which farmers and hauliers nearly brought the country to a standstill over duty on fuel, Mr Kennedy said the Liberal Democrats were "honest" on fuel taxes, which should be used to improve the environment.

Mr Kennedy concluded: "I have great pride in our party, in what we stand for. Pride in our principles. And I have pride in Britain - in what it can be.

"This is what we will deliver: a truly modern, truly free 21st century Britain. A Liberal Democrat Britain."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Charles Kennedy defies the ordinary rules of leadership"
The BBC's Mark Mardell reports
"The real venom was reserved for the tories"
Lib Dem Chief of Staff, Lord Newby
"We are not talking about committed Tory activists"

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06 Sep 00 | UK Politics
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20 Sep 00 | UK Politics
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18 Sep 00 | Liberal Democrats
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