Kennedy tells party: I'm fit and healthy

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Charles Kennedy reassured MPs about the state of his health yesterday in an address to the parliamentary party in which he stressed he had recovered from his "stomach bug".

Charles Kennedy reassured MPs about the state of his health yesterday in an address to the parliamentary party in which he stressed he had recovered from his "stomach bug".

The Liberal Democrat leader, who alarmed colleagues last week by failing to turn up to the Budget, told the MPs that although he had an awful week he was now feeling better.

"He said he had a bloody awful week and it had been trying for everyone but he was physically fit. It was a very positive meeting," said one MP.

MPs did not directly confront Mr Kennedy about his health last night at the meeting. In an unusual move - which provoked some ridicule at Westminster - his aides posted a researcher to act as a "security guard" outside the door to stop the press listening through the key hole.

Mr Kennedy arrived on time at the meeting, and was seen joking with one ally. He presented a paper on general election strategy to the MPs along with reassuring remarks which are said to have gone down well.

His address follows rumblings among Lib Dem MPs about whether Mr Kennedy will be fit enough to lead them through a gruelling general-election campaign. This week Matthew Taylor MP, the chairman of the parliamentary party and a key ally of Mr Kennedy, was forced to write to all MPs telling them that their party leader was now fit and well.

Several MPs who accept that Mr Kennedy is recovering from his recent bout of illness have expressed concerns privately that he may fall ill again. "We need reassuring that this isn't going to happen in a middle of an election campaign which would have terrible consequences," said one MP. Another MP said colleagues were for the first time questioning whether Mr Kennedy could continue. They said they had felt isolated by his office's "bunker mentality".

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