Kennedy pledges to continue Lib Dem links with Cabinet

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Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy today pledged to continue Cabinet-level links with Labour - but stressed he was not "fixated" by it.

Mr Kennedy told his party's Spring conference in Plymouth that the Joint Cabinet Committee cherished by his predecessor Paddy Ashdown was not the "be all and end all" of ways to influence the Government.

But he disclosed that he and Prime Minister Tony Blair had agreed earlier this week to continue the committee, with the emphasis on modernising politics and ways of voting.

Mr Kennedy's comments came at a question and answer session at the conference when he was asked what future he saw for the JCC.

"It's met once since the change of leadership - before Christmas we had quite useful discussions about freedom of information, further reform of the House of Lords in particular and Europe," he said.

"I had a discussion at the beginning of this week with Tony Blair about the further work of the JCC. We are going to keep it going.

"There's further useful work we feel can be done about the modernisation of politics."

Mr Kennedy said that would include exploring whether voting could be extended over a weekend rather than restricted to the traditional Thursday and whether it could take place over the Internet.

But he told the 1,500 delegates: "My genuine impression is that an awful lot has been made of the JCC. It's important and useful, but it's by no means the be all and end all of influencing the Government.

"It meets once in a while when there's something to be done, but I'm not fixated by it."

Mr Kennedy said he is toying with the idea of changing the structure of his party's conference to avoid it being dominated by a set-piece leader's speech.

Earlier, the conference heard home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes promise to bring forward radical proposals "to make policing more effective locally and stronger regionally".

He told delegates: "Local problems need to be tackled locally, bigger crime needs to be tackled regionally and nationally. We mustn't be conservative about structures and practises which need to be changed."

Mr Hughes said later that could mean abandoning traditional county police forces.

The party also used the conference as a showcase for its London mayor candidate Susan Kramer, who unveiled her campaign slogan - "Kramer can do it!" - and promised travel information on mobile phones for frustrated commuters.

The conference was warned by the party's trade and industry spokesman Dr Vincent Cable that small sub-post offices were closing at a faster rate than ever across Britain.

"Over 500 sub-post offices have closed since Labour came to power. And the rate of closure has more than doubled over the past six months," Dr Cable said.

The conference voted for a policy which would force Post Office Counters to keep open any sub-post office judged by an independent inquiry "to offer significant social and economic benefits".

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