Campbell to tell 'amazing' life story to boost image

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Indy Politics

Sir Menzies Campbell will deliver the most personal speech of his career today, tracing his life from a Glasgow tenement to the Liberal Democrat leadership.

He will try to raise his profile and scotch suggestions that he lacks dynamism and charisma by recalling his days as a world-class athlete and as a barrister, his struggle to win a parliamentary seat and his 19 years of service as an MP in Westminster.

Before his arrival on stage at Brighton for his first conference speech as leader, delegates will be shown photographs of Sir Menzies over the past four decades. Party officials say even Liberal Democrat loyalists are not aware of their new leader's "amazing history".

In a sustained attack on Labour, Sir Menzies will argue that Tony Blair has squandered his election victories. And he will accuse David Cameron of being light on policy and heavy on presentation. His speech will concentrate on the domestic agenda ­ amid accusations that Sir Menzies is more comfortable with foreign affairs.

It will round off a conference that has gone better than organisers had feared, with the leadership comfortably winning a contentious vote on taxation and Charles Kennedy failing to overshadow his successor.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat president, expressed unqualified support for Sir Menzies yesterday in a move to end speculation that he has doubts over his leadership.

Mr Hughes said: "I confirm ­ unambiguously because the media can be rather mischievous ­ that Menzies has had, and always will have, my personal and our collective loyal support."

Mr Hughes admitted that he had been "grumpy" over coming third, behind Sir Menzies and Chris Huhne, in this year's Liberal Democrat leadership election.

He described the publicity surrounding Mr Kennedy's drink problem, the Mark Oaten rent-boy scandaland revelations about his sexuality as "our rather difficult three months".

He said he had emerged "a little wiser as well as stronger", but warned that people were being put off entering into politics because of fear of intrusion.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are considering a property-based tax, despite fighting the next election on their plans to replace the council tax with a local income tax. Vincent Cable, the party's Treasury spokesman, confirmed that in the long term, the local income tax could be replaced by a new property-based tax.

Adopting a local income tax to take account of rising house prices could lead to much higher taxes on middle-class families. The local income tax is intended to avoid penalising elderly people on low incomes who remain in large houses. At the moment, many struggle to pay high council tax bills. Linking the system to land values could undermine that goal.

"In the very long term it would be very sensible to move over to a system where you incorporate land values into a tax system," Mr Cable said. He added that it would be a replacement for the local income tax. "In the long term it may be possible to devise a better system. That may be in 20 years time," he told BBC television.

Mr Cable also said that the effective standard rate of income tax could be 24p when the local income tax was introduced, in spite of the Liberal Democrat plans for a reduction in the basic rate of tax from 22p to 20p in the pound.

Mr Cable warned his party's supporters that they faced "tough choices" over cuts in public-spending priorities as part of a radical package of tax measures endorsed by the party on Tuesday.