Liberal Democrat leadership contenders address party members
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Four declared contenders in the Liberal Democrats leadership contest today addressed party members at the London School of Economics. The contest was initiated after Charles Kennedy admitted in a press conference that he had previously sought professional help for an alcohol problem. Initially, Mr Kennedy had stated that he intended to run for re-election in a leadership contest. However, after 25 MPs said they would refuse to serve on the front bench under Charles Kennedy, he resigned immediately and said he would play no part in the leadership contest.
At the meeting today, which had been organised before Kennedy's resignation, the four candidates - Sir Menzies Campbell, Mark Oaten, Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne - were permitted to make 12 minute speeches outlining their vision for the party. The speeches were broadcast live and unedited on BBC News 24, with clips from them appearing in news bulletins later that evening.
The current acting party leader, Menzies Cambell, the first to declare his intention to stand, said that he wanted new thinking to tackle poverty and social injustice, new thinking to underpin a modern constitution, and a radical democratic revolution. He suggested that international cooperation was the way to make poverty history, and spoke against the decision to invade Iraq. He stressed his "experience" as being a key quality needed for a Liberal Democrat leader.
The MP for the Winchester constituency, Mark Oaten, praised the success of previous leader Charles Kennedy. He pledged to do all he could to defeat attacks on civil liberties in coming months, and stressed that it was important to try and defeat the identity card bill due to be voted on next month. He suggested that the party "needed to be more progressive, ambitious, and optimistic" and should avoid talking about politics in terms of 'left' or 'right'. Speaking about the environment, he said that the solution was not to "dictate how people should lead their lives" but offer positive measures enabling people to take their environmental responsibilities seriously.
The current party president, Simon Hughes, who unsuccessfully ran for the London mayoral position in 2004, promised a consultative leadership and said he wanted the Liberal Democrats to be the "party of fairness". He attacked Prime Minister Tony Blair as having 'failed', with the poorest paying a bigger propotion of their income in taxes than the richest. He said that there was a need to tackle inequality, and promised to stick with the policy of taxes to tackle inequality. He also supported greater decentralisation of power, and stressed the continued importance of environmental policies.
Former MEP Chris Huhne focused on environmental issues, questioning the government's lack of conviction to the Kyoto targets and the panicked response to the fuel protests. He spoke against David Cameron's lack of environmental conviction and suggested that only realistic means of tackling carbon emissions was through taxation, which could help change behaviour. Higher eco-taxes should be combined with lower personal taxes for those at the bottom of the economic scale, he argued. He also promoted greater powers and accountability for local authorities.
The nominations for leadership candidates close on 25th January, with candidates needing the declared support of at least 7 MPs and 200 party members from at least 20 different constituencies. No other candidates other than the four above are expected to stand. The vote closes on the 1st March, with the result due to be announced on the 2nd March.
- "Lib Dem contenders address party" — , January 14, 2006
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