Kennedy: 'I will drink less and reflect on my position'

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Charles Kennedy has promised to drink less in an attempt to counter the innuendo over his alcohol intake that has dogged his leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

After a turbulent week, he acknowledged he had been asked to "reflect on his position" by senior colleagues, but insisted he was "firing on all cylinders and up for the task involved".

Following fresh newspaper allegations about his drinking habits, he told ITV's Dimbleby Programme that he was an "extremely moderate and infrequent consumer of alcohol". He said: "If people are concerned about 'lifestyle issues' or whatever, they need not be. But I equally have to take on board that perception and I am taking that perception on board and people see the difference."

He confirmed he had cut down and, asked if he were determined to continue to drink less, he said: "Absolutely and I feel a lot healthier for it, particularly with an eight-month old baby."

He also said he would try to give up smoking during the Christmas break.

The Mail on Sunday carried fresh claims from a former Liberal Democrat MP, Paul Marsden, that he had seen evidence of a problem at first hand. And Donnachadh McCarthy, a former Liberal Democrat deputy chairman, claimed in Scotland on Sunday that he had covered up for Mr Kennedy's drinking.

Both allegations were strongly denied by his spokesman, who said the party was consulting its lawyers.

Mr Kennedy said yesterday that senior Liberal Democrat spokesmen had told him it was right for a leader "to reflect about his position". He added: "I will be coming back with fresh ideas and fresh impetus for the party in the new year which is what they want."

He called for an immediate end to anonymous briefings against him, saying they were damaging the party, and said support was "flooding in" to his office from around the country.

The party's deputy leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, a front-runner to succeed him, ducked a chance yesterday to offer his "unconditional support". After being pressed several times to do so, he told Sky: "So long as Mr Kennedy is the leader of the Liberal Democrats, he has my full support."

The party's home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten - another potential successor - said he was "very comfortable" with Mr Kennedy's leadership. "I believe that what he now wants to do is put this week behind him as I'm sure all colleagues do and we come out fighting after a good break at Christmas because we are all tired and worn out."

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