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Kennedy will pursue Blair over Iraq war
By George Jones, Political Editor
(Filed: 24/09/2004)

Charles Kennedy sought yesterday to make Iraq the "galvanising" issue of the coming general election by urging voters to remove Tony Blair from power for taking the country to war <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/09/21/nlib221.xml> on the basis of a "false prospectus".

The Liberal Democrat leader brought to a close what is expected to be his party's last conference before an election by challenging Mr Blair to answer the key question that he had agreed to back the American-led invasion "come what may".

 

 

Charles Kennedy in Bournemouth: Three-party politics now a reality

His conference speech was overshadowed by the hostage crisis in Baghdad and party officials responded to the sombre national mood by cancelling plans to release hundreds of yellow balloons at the end of his speech. Mr Kennedy dropped several jokes from his prepared speech.

But Mr Kennedy, who was the only one of the three main party leaders to oppose the Iraq war, made clear that he believed that the conflict had damaged Mr Blair's trust and credibility. He said there was a "sullen and increasingly angry public mood" with a deep-rooted sense in the country "that somehow all is not quite right".

He called on Mr Blair to answer the charge that a year before the war he had told President George W Bush privately that Britain would support regime change in Iraq - even though at the time the Prime Minister was publicly arguing that it was all about weapons of mass destruction.

If Mr Blair refused to answer, Mr Kennedy said the British people should make their judgment known through the ballot box. "There is the ultimate verdict of the general election itself," he said.

Calling for more openness and accountability in politics, he said never again must the country be led into a war on the basis of questionable intelligence.

"Never again must this country be sold an incomplete and false prospectus as a basis for unilateral military action without the sanction of the United Nations," he said.

Mr Kennedy claimed that three-party politics was now a reality as the Lib Dems moved from being "a party of protest to a party of power".

In many parts of the country, particularly inner cities, the Tories were now the third party. Reversing a jibe frequently levelled at the Lib Dems, Mr Kennedy said: "In so much of the country a vote for the Conservatives is now a wasted vote."

He said Michael Howard's Tory party no longer connected with people with its return to its "hard-core" Right-wing instincts. "They hark back to a Britain that is no more," he said.

Mr Kennedy argued that the Lib Dems were a "breath of fresh air" and were setting the political agenda with policies to replace the council tax with a local income tax, scrap university tuition fees, provide free long-term care for elderly people and introduce a 50p top rate of tax for those earning more than 100,000 a year.

After a week in which a ginger group of younger Liberal Democrat politicians pressed for more free-market policies, Mr Kennedy made clear that he was positioning his party to the Left of Labour.

He said with probably 225 days to go to a general election next May, the voters could choose between "two essentially conservative parties" or the alternative of the Liberal Democrats.

Unlike his predecessor, Paddy Ashdown, who made a pre-election pact for a coalition with Labour - abandoned by Mr Blair after his landslide majority in 1997 - Mr Kennedy ruled out deals.

"No nods, no winks, no deals, no stitch-ups," Mr Kennedy said. If there was a "hung Parliament", he indicated that the Liberal Democrats would work with a minority government on issues of principle, such as Europe, but would not surrender its political independence.

Mr Kennedy stopped short of repeating the claim by Lord Razzall, his campaigns chief, that the Lib Dems would be the next non-Labour government, possibly within six years. But the Lib Dem leadership believed that the political tide was at last running in their favour.

Mr Kennedy's aim at the next election is to achieve a further advance on the Lib Dems' 55 seats at Westminster, which could prevent the Tories from ousting Mr Blair.

If the Conservatives lost a third election badly, the Liberal Democrats would seek to make the case that only they were capable of removing Labour from power at a subsequent election in 2009-10.

 

Professor Phil Harris,

Department of Marketing,

School of Business,

University of Otago,

Po Box 56, 

Dunedin,

New Zealand

 

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