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UK Politics

Kennedy plans to attack Labour on environment

Charles Kennedy will tell delegates to the Liberal Democrats' spring conference in Plymouth today that the time has come to ditch Paddy Ashdown's focus on foreign affairs and constitutional reform and instead try to capture votes by pursuing green issues.

The party leader will also further break from Mr Ashdown's policy of co-operation by firmly stating that he intends to attack the Government whenever and wherever he sees fit.

This more confrontational approach echoes the strategy put forward by Simon Hughes, MP for Southwark North and Bermondsey, who was Mr Kennedy's rival for the leadership. As well as healing the rift with Mr Hughes it will send a clear signal to Ashdownites such as Menzies Campbell, the foreign affairs spokesman, that their influence is waning.

One of Mr Kennedy's front-bench team said: "Charles has decided to own something much as Ashdown owned Kosovo as an issue. And let's face it, there's a lot more votes in the environment than in Kosovo."

Mr Kennedy has not fashioned a close relationship with the Prime Minister and he has been reluctant to extend the remit or scope of the joint consultative committee set up by Mr Ashdown and Mr Blair.

Perhaps more importantly, he has realised that the constitutional changes already made by the Government have inadvertently put the Lib Dems in positions of power in Scotland, Wales and the Lords.

Unlike Mr Ashdown he has ruthlessly exploited this power-broking position to embarrass new Labour and push the Lib-Dem liberal agenda on.

Today he will turn his attention to Mr Blair's environmental agenda which his advisers believe Labour has underestimated as a political issue. He will brand the Government's response to a range of environmental concerns from GM food to pollution as "pathetic" and claim that Mr Blair has failed to take "public concerns seriously".