Kennedy swings to right with choice of key Lib Dem voices

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Charles Kennedy shifted his Liberal Democrat Party to the right by promoting young Turks who espouse the politics of free-market liberalism.

He gave key jobs on the front bench to MPs who contributed to the contentious "Orange Book", which reopened debate about a left-right divide in the party last year. David Laws, its editor, who proposed replacing the NHS monopoly in heath care with an insurance-funded system, was promoted to the work and pensions brief.

Ed Davey, who was behind the party's controversial proposals to replace council tax with a local income tax, was promoted from local government to the critical education brief. His old job as Liberal Democrat spokesman on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister went to the party president, Simon Hughes.

Two newly elected MPs, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne, were given pivotal frontbench jobs just days after entering Parliament. Mr Clegg, a former MEP who said that the party should adopt a more critical tone on Europe, was given a foreign affairs brief ahead of the referendum on the EU constitution. Mr Huhne, another new MP and Orange Book contributor, was made number two in the party's treasury team.

The appointments will be significant as the party starts a policy re-evaluation. Those advocating change argue that the party should reclaim the free-trade liberalism of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill.

One Liberal Democrat MP said: "This is a move to the right of the party. Time will tell whether this is the right thing to do."

Mr Kennedy left his most senior appointments unchanged, with Sir Menzies Campbell, the party's deputy leader, continuing as foreign affairs spokesman, Vincent Cable - another Orange Book contributor - keeping the treasury brief, and Mark Oaten, also an advocate of change, staying in his home affairs role.

Steve Webb, who won plaudits as work and pensions spokesman, was given health, while Sarah Teather, who held on to the Brent East seat she seized from Labour in a by-election last year, will be spokeswoman on communities and local government. Norman Baker, the party's environment spokesman, gets an expanded brief including rural affairs.

Four MPs left the front bench. A spokesman for Mr Kennedy said Phil Willis, the former education spokesman; Malcolm Bruce, the former trade and industry spokesman; Paul Keetch, the former defence spokesman; and Paul Burstow, the former health spokesman, had decided to return to the back benches.

In other moves, Norman Lamb was promoted to trade and industry spokesman while Tom Brake moves from international development to transport. Andrew George, an environment, food and rural affairs spokesman, takes over international development, while Michael Moore, a foreign affairs spokesman, takes over defence.

Mr Kennedy said: "We have brought together a superb team of individuals, combining experience with youth. I am confident that we will continue to provide a real alternative to the Labour government as the new parliamentary session gets under way."

CHARLES KENNEDY, PAGE 25

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