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Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy
outlines his party's rural plans
 real 56k

Friday, 18 May, 2001, 15:20 GMT
Kennedy faces farms protest
Empty livestock market in Hatherleigh, west Devon
Charles Kennedy was on the campaign trail in Devon
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy says Tory policy towards asylum seekers combines "the instincts of Alf Garnett with all the electoral appeal of Michael Foot".

He described the Conservative policy - being highlighted by William Hague - as "shameful".

Television character Alf Garnett
Hague's political instincts compared to Alf Garnett's
Mr Kennedy's comments came at his party's election news conference, where he also highlighted the Tories' rating of 26% in the latest opinion poll.

Later, on the campaign trail in Devon, the Liberal Democrat leader tried to highlight his party's agricultural policy but was unsettled by an angry foot-and- mouth protester.

Mr Kennedy's attack on William Hague's "latest lurch into populism" came just before the Tory leader had spoken.

"He is a party leader and they are a political party that now combine all the instincts of Alf Garnett with all the electoral appeal of Michael Foot," he said.

Pit protest

But when Mr Kennedy arrived in Hatherleigh, Devon, to present his party's plans for rural communities, it was his turn to be harangued.

A protester, angered by the preparation of a nearby pit for the disposal of up to a million carcasses from the foot-and-mouth crisis, followed Mr Kennedy around the town.

Ron Dawson, who lives near Ash Moor Pit in Petrockstowe, accused Lib Dem candidate John Burnett of not doing enough to oppose the pit, which is being kept in reserve for possible future use.

Mr Dawson shouted: "Mr Kennedy are you going to ignore the south west like the rest of the country?"

It was Mr Burnett who replied that he had Mr Kennedy's assurances that the party would "move heaven and earth" to make sure the pit was not used.

Mr Kennedy also spoke to an Exmoor tea shop owner, Judy Carless, whose business has been closed since foot-and-mouth hit in February.

She was in the spotlight recently when she took prime minister Tony Blair to task over the Government's handling of the crisis.

10-point rural plan

At the morning news conference, Mr Kennedy outlined his party's 10-point plan for rural communities.

He promised 100m compensation fund for farmers, reform of the common agricultural policy and help for rural schools and post offices.


People who live in the countryside should not be treated as second-class citizens

Charles Kennedy
"The problems of the countryside cannot be cured overnight.

"There must be long-term renewal. That means protecting local schools, post offices, better bus and train services, and providing affordable homes for young people," he said.

He said the Lib Dems were the strongest voice for rural Britain.

He attacked Labour's manifesto as "bog-standard", saying that it showed the party's "poverty of ambition".

And he said: "The Conservative manifesto is full of holes and has been shipping water all week."

Rural prospects

In contrast he said: "We will abolish tuition fees, we are the only party pledging to cut class sizes and to place environment and civil liberties central on the agenda."

Mr Kennedy said: "Foot-and-mouth, swine fever, salmonella and BSE - the list of crises to hit British farmers is a long one indeed."

He continued: "People who live in the countryside should not be treated as second-class citizens.

"The Conservatives forfeited their claim to be the Party of rural Britain a long time ago. It is the Lib Dems who have the real understanding of the needs of rural communities."

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