Right of Reply: Charles Kennedy

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The Independent Culture
The leader of the Liberal Democrat Party replies to a leading article in which his party's continuing co-operation with the Labour Party was questioned

YOUR EDITORIAL (18 November) suggested that I look to my conscience regarding Liberal Democrat co-operation with the Labour Party. I am more than happy to do so.

For many decades, the Liberal Party, the SDP, the Alliance, and now the Liberal Democrats have argued that parties should co-operate where they agree. We promoted a more adult form of politics than the slanging- match that Westminster so often becomes. For many of us, the concern to promote constructive politics was one of the reasons for entering into politics in the first place.

Obviously, this meant that we were more than happy to discuss some policy areas with Labour, in a joint Cabinet committee. Anything else would have been a betrayal of a deeply held belief.

This process has yielded results. We have pressed Labour hard on constitutional issues. This ensured that the European elections took place under a system of fairer voting.

Although the Freedom of Information Bill is far from all that we would wish it to be, we have secured improvements, for example on the time that the Government takes to respond when challenged.

None of this has prevented the Liberal Democrats from being an effective opposition on key areas where Labour has failed to deliver: education, health and transport. And we oppose in a far more credible and constructive way than the discredited and divided Conservative Party under William Hague.

Where we agree with Labour we will say so.

By talking to them, we shall make important gains for the British people. Where we disagree - and we often do - we will oppose.

My conscience is clear on this. And the party I lead remains one of conscience and reform.