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Kennedy in `I hate national drink' shock

CHARLES KENNEDY has been in office for less than a month, but he is already finding out about the unpalatable side of leadership.

When Neil Kinnock became leader of the Labour Party he was faced with the formidable task of banishing the far-left Militant Tendency from its ranks. When John Major took the reins from Margaret Thatcher, the "bastards" were already lurking, waiting for him to fail.

But when Mr Kennedy succeeded Paddy Ashdown as leader of the Liberal Democrats he faced the toughest task of all - drinking a cup of tea.

Despite vowing that he would never sup a cuppa for his party, he did so yesterday.

"Let me put this on record," the renowned tea-hater had said less than two weeks ago. "I will do much for my party but I draw the line at drinking tea."

As leader, however, he would be a mug to miss out on a photo opportunity. So when SSAFA Forces Help, the charity for service people, asked him to promote their "Big Brew Up" event - where people will be asked to donate pounds 1 for each cup of tea they drink - he knew he would have to swallow hard for the sake of the party.

Yesterday, he joined six members of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards outside the Palace of Westminster and nervously raised a cup to his lips.

"He has hated tea since he was a child, so we thought it was lovely of him to support us," said Elaine Finch of the services' charity.

"He had a sip and obviously found it disgusting. He certainly didn't ask for a top up."

And Mr Kennedy's verdict? "Aarggh, it doesn't taste any better than it did when I was eight," he said.

"I only hope it's another 30 years before I have to drink it again."