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EDITIONS
Sunday, 23 September, 2001, 19:16 GMT 20:16 UK
Strange bedfellows top Lib Dem agenda
BBC Wales political reporter Guto Thomas previews the Liberal Democrat party conference in Bournemouth

The Liberal Democrats have come a long way since 1997 - but they are convinced greater political riches await them.

Their goal is clear. They, not the Conservatives, should be the official opposition to Labour, they say.


Members are convinced they can see a window of opportunity to woo the disaffected

And, while the Tories re-align themselves further to the right following the election of Iain Duncan Smith as leader, party members are convinced they can see a window of opportunity to woo the disaffected.

This, they believe, will help propel the party from the fringes of British politics, to be the main opponents to Tony Blair's government.

Glass half-full

Of course, the Liberal Democrats have always quite been optimists. In the face of almost constant political adversity, they have had no other choice.

Indeed, it is their optimism that, perhaps, has fuelled the radicalism and progressiveness of many of their policies.

But this re-alignment, in turn, creates a paradox for the party in Wales.

Lembit Opik, Liberal Democrat
Lembit Opik's election creates an unsual party paradox
For, while Charles Kennedy and Tony Blair have disbanded the Joint Consultative Committee and are moving ever further away from the close co-operation of the early years of the New Labour Government, the Liberal Democrats in Wales remain in partnership government with Welsh Labour.

This paradox has been given a further recent twist by the election of Lembit Opik as the party's leader in Wales.

Members have opted to anchor its figurehead in Westminster, rather than the devolved Assembly.

Seat celebrations

While it is clear they had little or no alternative, it is equally clear that party members and - perhaps more importantly - the voters, will have to get used to a two-speed, two-tier relationship with Labour - one 'special,' the other increasingly not.

But this will not in any sense be a normal conference, or conference season.


This conference marks an entry point to uncharted waters for the party and its leaders

The electoral scalps gained at the general election, with their largest haul of seats since 1923, will be subject to muted celebrations.

The developing international crisis is what will be at the forefront of delegates's minds.

And Charles Kennedy, if he is to fulfil the promise of his own political rhetoric, must deliver a credible and commanding performance.

The burden of true opposition to Labour is both heavy and unfamiliar to the Liberal Democrats.

In many senses, therefore, this conference marks an entry point to uncharted waters for the party and its leaders.


Lib Dem conference
Full news and analysis
See also:

23 Sep 01 | Liberal Democrats
23 Sep 01 | Liberal Democrats
04 Mar 00 | Wales
09 Jun 01 | Talking Point
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