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1999: Kennedy wins Lib Dem leadership

Charles Kennedy has won the race to succeed Paddy Ashdown as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Kennedy, who was the party's rural affairs spokesman, won nearly 57% of the vote by party members.

In what was widely seen as a good-natured contest, Mr Kennedy fought off competition from four other candidates.

The election involved a complicated count under a proportional representation system.

The second, third and fourth choice votes also had to be counted before Mr Kennedy emerged as the clear winner.

Mr Kennedy's closest rival, Simon Hughes, took 43% of the vote.

After his victory, the new leader paid tribute to Mr Hughes for waging "a magnificent, positive, inspirational campaign.

Mr Hughes said it had been a "good, democratic, clean campaign" and indicated he would be prepared to work as the new leader's deputy.

Outgoing leader Paddy Ashdown, who began a policy of cooperation with the ruling Labour party, congratulated his successor.

Before the result was announced a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said he hoped the new leader would seek to develop the process of cooperation.

Mr Kennedy had been a high-profile supporter of Mr Ashdown's attempts to build bridges with Labour, particularly on the issues of Europe and electoral reform.

But during his leadership campaign he stressed he would seek the party's permission for any moves towards greater ties with Labour.

"I don't rule out further cooperation if it's in the interests of Britain, if it's based on our policies and our values and if it has the consent of our party," Mr Kennedy said in his acceptance speech.

His main task would be to give a voice to the disadvantaged and dispossessed, he added.

In Context
Charles Kennedy resigned as party leader on 7 January 2006 after colleagues forced him to step down following a public admission that he had a drink problem.

Unde his leadership the Liberal Democrats moved away from Labour.

Mr Kennedy publicly ruled out the idea of a Lib-Lab pact before the 2001 general election in which his party gained six seats bringing its tally of MPs to 52.

In January 2002 he announced a formal end to the Liberal Democrats' cooperation agreement with Labour.

The break came after the government failed to holding a referendum on electoral reform.

A key Liberal Democrat policy is the introduction of proportional representation in parliamentary elections.


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