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Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy
"I think we can be the most serious opposition"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Lib Dems 'to replace Tories'

Charles Kennedy with BBC political editor Andrew Marr
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has said that his party could replace the Conservatives as the "most serious" opposition to Labour after the election.


There will be no coherent opposition to a second term Tony Blair government - and I think that's where we come in

Charles Kennedy

His comments came as Prime Minister Tony Blair called for Britain to be confident of its place in Europe - and to "make the running" in arguments over the future of the EU.

Mr Blair was speaking in advance of Labour's launch of its business manifesto.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, highlighted their pledge to save families hundreds of pounds a year through tax changes.

Scaffolds

Charles Kennedy, speaking during a BBC News Online webcast, said Labour was "looking the likely winner" in the election - and might romp home with a landslide.

Mr Kennedy said the Tories would be in no position to oppose Labour after the election - and so the Lib Dems could fill the role.

Predicting that the knives would be out for William Hague, he said: "The sound of cameras being set up and scaffolding being erected is almost audible around London SW1 at the moment."

"And what we've seen yet is as nothing to what we will see after 7 June.

"There will be no coherent opposition to a second term Tony Blair government - and I think that's where we come in," said Mr Kennedy.

He was speaking as the Lib Dems focused on the drive to take women out of poverty - with the launch of a manifesto for women.

Face of poverty

A senior party figure, Lady Williams, the former Labour cabinet minister Shirley Williams, said it had not been a good election for women.

Labour and the Tories had not addressed women's problems properly, she said, and there would be fewer female MPs after the election.

The manifesto for women promotes the party's plan to phase out the 10p tax rate for low earners.

That could take a million women, on the lowest incomes, out of taxation.

Thatcher intervention

As the manifesto for women was announced, Britain's first female prime minister - Lady Thatcher - was set to join the election fray again.

She will lend her support to the Tories' only Asian candidate in what is thought to be a winnable seat.

Tony Blair joins a kick-about in his Sedgefield constituency
Mr Blair took part in a Bank Holiday kick-about

Labour was launching its programme for business - by highlighting plans to strengthen competition and encourage investment.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "One of the most important changes there's been in politics in the past few years is that New Labour has replaced the Conservative Party as the party for business, for stability, for economic competence."

Mr Blair was again pressed by journalists on Europe.

"This is a country that I believe has got sufficient self-confidence and self-belief to go into Europe and win the argument," he said.

"I say we go in there, we make the running and we make the arguments."

Fighting in Europe

William Hague on a visit to Llandudno, north Wales
Mr Hague: Still upbeat

Tory leader William Hague rebutted Mr Blair's charge that Tory plans for Europe would mean either isolation or "humiliating retreat" for the UK.

"Prime ministers have been to European summits in the past to fight for a particular position and have been told they could not do so by political commentators," he said.

"Those pundits had been proved wrong by such figures as Margaret Thatcher and John Major."

The Tories used their election news conference to try to switch the focus to their 8bn worth of tax cuts.

They want specifically to woo young families and produced a string of examples how their tax plans could make "hard-working couples better off."

Mr Hague accused Labour of "weasel words" on tax, which had increased by the equivalent of 10 pence basic rate of income tax.

"This election matters a great deal to those on tight family budgets, working hard to make ends meet."

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo accused the government of landing the poorest fifth of households with the highest tax burden since records began.

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