Kennedy slaps down the 'Young Turk' MPs

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Indy Politics

Charles Kennedy has slapped down a group of "Young Turks" on the eve of his party's conference, making clear that there will be no lurch to the right. The Liberal Democrat leader twice summoned the most outspoken member of a group of radical young MPs in recent days to warn him not to overshadow this week's gathering in Bournemouth.

Charles Kennedy has slapped down a group of "Young Turks" on the eve of his party's conference, making clear that there will be no lurch to the right. The Liberal Democrat leader twice summoned the most outspoken member of a group of radical young MPs in recent days to warn him not to overshadow this week's gathering in Bournemouth.

David Laws has called for the NHS to be replaced by insurance schemes as well as for the privatisation of the Royal Mail in a book on the party's future due to be formally launched at the conference.

Mr Kennedy made clear his irritation at the proposals. "Our health policy has been a long time in the making and this is not part of it, nor is ever likely to be," he told The Independent on Sunday. He also issued an explicit warning to Mr Laws, a Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, to toe the line. "It is up to members of the frontbench team to agree with party policy," he said.

A fringe meeting to launch the controversial publication, The Orange Book, has been cancelled amid fears it could become a focus for media attention over splits. But a spokeswoman for Mr Kennedy insisted he was not seeking to gag the MPs, who the deputy leader, Menzies campbell, called "Young Turks".

The Liberal Democrats will move to gain the political initiative tomorrow by spelling out how they will pay for policies such as scrapping tuition fees and free personal care for the elderly. The detailed costings are an attempt by the party to answer charges of economic incompetence.

Few new policies are to be announced as the party tries to sell its key messages without the rows that have marred previous gatherings. One exception is the proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 and decriminalise offences by children under 14, instead handing them over to social services. This would mean that child killers, like those of two-year-old James Bulger, would escape murder charges.

The change is supported by child welfare and prison reform groups who say that Britain has one of the toughest child penal systems in Europe.

The Liberal Democrats point to a new poll showing that three out of four people believe the Government's policy on youth crime is failing. An NOP survey of nearly 1,000 people aged 15 and over found that nearly nine out of 10 people believe there should be a greater use of community punishments. Last month, 14-year-old Adam Rickwood became the youngest child to die in custody, and 180 under-21-year-olds have died while in prison since 1990.

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