Hughes refuses to rule out leadership bid

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Simon Hughes failed to rule himself out of the race to succeed Charles Kennedy yesterday after the Liberal Democrat leader telephoned a television studio to deny claims he was planning to step down at the next election.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Hughes said he would not stand for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats if he is elected as Mayor of London, but refused to rule out a bid if Mr Kennedy stands down.

Mr Kennedy telephoned the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme from the Highlands after newspaper reports suggested he was planning to leave politics after the next election. It was claimed he was planning to resign after campaigning for a "yes" vote in the referendum on the proposed EU constitution.

Speaking on a crackly line from Fort William, he said: "I have not been contemplating any such thing and, therefore, I have had no such conversation with any colleagues at all. This is just complete fiction from start to finish, full stop."

Mr Kennedy's unusual intervention comes after a string of newspaper stories about his health.

Mr Hughes said: "My view is I take one step at a time. The next job that is coming up is the mayor. I haven't thought beyond 11 June. If I win that's the next part of my life sorted.

"Once you have been elected as London mayor you will do the job. You make a commitment and you will see it through. I would serve the term. That was the plan with Charles. We agreed I would go out to win." The Liberal Democrat candidate for London mayor, who launches his campaign today, told The Independent that the current mayor, Ken Livingstone, had given Londoners inadequate information about what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

He said he wanted new technology such as texting and paging to keep businesses informed and wanted each household to be delivered emergency advice, such as what to do in the event of a biological attack. He said as mayor he would ask for a full-time M15 official to work in his headquarters to liaise with the security services.

Mr Hughes, 52, said he thought that it was "highly likely" there would be an attempt by "fanatics or nut-cases" to attack London. "I don't think it's ever inevitable there will be a successful attack," he said. "I guess it's highly likely there will be an attack because of our position in the world."

He said he was concerned by the threat posed by a growing number of young fundamentalist Muslims in London. "The major concern is that there is a growing group of young, particularly Muslims, in London who are becoming more fanatical," he said.

"It is the extremists in London who may be growing in number rather than going down in number."

Mr Hughes, an evangelical Christian, said he wanted to use his "faith links to build bridges as quickly as possible with young members of other minority faiths, particularly the Muslim faith, because that is where the danger arises".

Monday interview, page 29

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