Lib Dem Conference: Leader in red light shock

MICHAEL BROWN'S NOTEBOOK
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The Independent Online
MORE EVIDENCE of the determination of Liberal Democrats to keep their new leader firmly in his place came when Charles Ken-nedy sought to intervene in the debate yesterday on genetically modified food.

Whereas Tony Blair and William Hague address their conferences by dictatorial will, Mr Kennedy was reduced to applying to speak by means of the delegates' speaker application form. He was required to state, in writing, his credentials and complete the section: "position held in party". The speaker's slip is now a treasured document in the party's archives.

NIGEL JONES, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham and chairman of the All- Party Parliamentary Beer Group, hosted a celebratory party for Mr Kennedy at a Harrogate pub. The group has launched a "vice- president's ale" in honour of Mr Kennedy's leadership triumph. Brewed by Brakespeares in Henley, demands are being made for the Commons bars to stock the beer when Parliament returns in the autumn.

ALTHOUGH SUFFERING from Parkinson's disease, Jeremy Thorpe, the former Liberal leader, was in Harrogate signing copies of his book In My Own Time. His book is competing with Earl Russell's An Intelligent Person's Guide To Liberalism for bestseller of the week.

Mr Thorpe's advice to Mr Kennedy is: "Not to work too hard and get eight hours sleep a night. If he has meetings in the afternoon he should leave one of them early and spend an hour in bed. Then put on a fresh pair of socks and shoes and start afresh again."

Many delegates are voting for Mr Thorpe in the party's forthcoming election in November for the "interim peers panel". Under new party rules, 50 members of a panel will be elected by conference delegates. And Mr Thorpe's chances of ending up in the Lords look promising, based on the crowds who turned up to his conference book signing.

MUCH MISSED at Harrogate this week is Sir David Steel, absent from the conference for the first time in 35 years. Because of his new position as Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, which is in session all week, Sir David is obliged to follow the same rules as the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, and eschew the grubby business of party politics.

PADDY ASHDOWN and Mr Kennedy have been gasping for cigarettes behind the conference platform and incurred the wrath of Stuart Holmes, a tramp, who has stood, every day, outside Liberal Democrat, Labour and Tory conference for the past 15 years with a cardboard sign "Ban Cigarettes".

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