Kennedy urged to face Tory threat

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Charles Kennedy is being urged to bring forward new policy announcements to prevent the Liberal Demo-crats being eclipsed by a revived Conservative Party.

The Liberal Democrats have launched a policy review that is due to report to their party conference next September. But some MPs are calling for the party to "hit the ground running" by speeding up the release of policies on social justice and the environment, to which the new Tory leader David Cameron is to give top priority.

One senior Liberal Democrat said: "We mustn't panic just because Cameron enjoys a media honeymoon. But we can't sit back and let the Tories have a free run to announce new policies. We should get in first in some areas."

A strong start by Mr Cameron could provoke fresh doubts about Mr Kennedy's leadership of the party. But his allies insist there is no sign of a repeat of the "wobble" this summer over whether he should lead his party into the next general election.

Yesterday, Mr Kennedy said that Mr Cameron's election did not raise questions about his own position. Warning his critics not to get "too carried away", he pointed to the one million extra votes his party picked up at the May election, giving it more MPs than it has had for 80 years.

"You will see very clear differences of policy and of substance between ourselves and the Conservatives," he said. "Europe, the Iraq war, university tuition fees and the environment."

Mr Kennedy dismissed speculation about a coalition with the Tories as "redundant". He said: "We do best as a party when we campaign independently under our own colours."

In a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research, a think-tank, Mr Kennedy warned that the "monolithic centralism" imposed by the two other main parties was leading to a "crisis of innovation in public services".