Kennedy takes aim at 'President' Blair

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Charles Kennedy will today make his most outspoken attack on "Tony Blair's presidential style of government" and claim the Prime Minister headed a small clique which drove the country to war.

In his keynote speech to delegates at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, Mr Kennedy will accuse the Prime Minister of pressing ahead with a military strike on Iraq "despite widespread public doubts".

He will accuse Mr Blair and his inner circle of seeking to "manipulate, not tell it like it is" and say the revelations from the Hutton Inquiry and the Intelligence and Security Committee are so unsettling that MPs would never have agreed to go to war if they had known the facts.

"If the British House of Commons had known then what it knows now about the events leading up that fateful parliamentary debate and vote on committing our forces to war in Iraq, that outcome could and should have been fundamentally different," he will say. "But Parliament did not know these things, because the government, over such a critical issue, can still shroud itself in secrecy."

Mr Kennedy will call for reform of the voting system and argue that the military strike would not have happened had there been a proportional system of voting for Westminster.

In a bitter personal attack on the Prime Minister, which symbolises the breakdown in relations between the two parties, Mr Kennedy will criticise his style of government. "Tony Blair's presidential system of government can exclude the proper workings of what should be collective Cabinet government held to account by the elected House of Commons," he will say. "This is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy. But what we have seen is a small clique driving us into war, disregarding widespread public doubts. That is not acceptable. They seek to manage not lead, to manipulate, not tell it as it is. The system has to change."

Mr Kennedy will also criticise the Tories for picking holes in the Government over the war on Iraq, even though they called for, and supported, military action.

"Do you share with me a certain distaste at the sight of the Conservative leadership criticising the outcome of a war for which they were the principal cheerleaders?" he will ask. "That's a leadership of charlatans and chancers."