Charles Kennedy is to try to fend off challenges from David Cameron, insisting that the new Tory leader is "not a liberal".
He will use his new year message today to reject Mr Cameron's call for Liberal Democrats to join the Tories. But he will sidestep the crisis over his leadership arising from concerns that he lacks a strategy to counter the resurgent Tories.
In a veiled reference to his critics, he said: "I challenge my party, and I challenge you all, to join me in 2006 as we set about making this vision of Liberal Britain a reality."
Mr Kennedy will attack Labour's record on poverty, highlighting the "unfairness" that divides Britain.
He will say: "David Cameron, the newest kid on the block, is reaping rewards simply for being fresh; but nobody should be under any illusions. David Cameron is a Conservative at heart, not a liberal.
"What I do detect is a shifting of the political tectonic plates; a sense that change is coming. And when this Government falls ... I believe it is the Liberal Democrats, the genuine carrier of the liberal and democratic flame in our country, who will be most in touch with how the majority want us to respond to such inequalities and unfairness."Reuse content