Labour dismisses Kennedy as 'a nice guy, not a serious leader'

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Indy Politics

Labour will turn its fire on to the Liberal Democrats today amid growing fears that Charles Kennedy's party could capture seats from Labour in Thursday's general election.

Labour will turn its fire on to the Liberal Democrats today amid growing fears that Charles Kennedy's party could capture seats from Labour in Thursday's general election.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will launch an all-out assault on the policies of the Liberal Democrats at a joint appearance in the North-west aimed at preventing Mr Kennedy from reaping the benefit of disillusionment with Labour.

At the 1997 and 2001 general elections, Labour and the Liberal Democrats had an unofficial non-aggression pact and concentrated their fire on the Tories.

But Labour is worried the third party could seize some of its Northern heartlands after Iraq became a central election issue.

Labour will warn voters that the Liberal Democrats are not a "serious" party, and it will portray Mr Kennedy as "a nice guy but not a serious leader". It will remind people that they are choosing Britain's next prime minister as well as voting in their own constituencies.

Mr Blair will attack the Liberal Democrats' policy that people who possess Class A drugs should not receive jail sentences when he and Mr Brown meet parents to discuss drug abuse. Labour's private polls suggest that many voters do not know about the Liberal Democrats' "soft" policy on hard drugs.

Labour will also target the Liberal Democrats' plan to replace the council tax with a local income tax, warning that it would force many middle-income households to pay more.

The decision by Labour to attack the Liberal Democrats' policies follows criticism of its claim that a vote for Mr Kennedy's party could let Michael Howard into Downing Street by the backdoor. The claim was undermined by a study for The Independent by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, which found that a big swing to the Liberal Democrats could deprive Labour of its overall majority but was unlikely to result in a Tory victory.

Labour stuck to its guns yesterday by unveiling a poster saying: "If one in 10 Labour voters don't vote, the Tories win."

Writing in The Independent today, Mr Blair insists: "The paper's analysis was based on a rather outdated view of uniform national swings. Elections, in a three-party contest and with a more sophisticated and better informed public, are no longer that simple."

But his figures were challenged by another academic, Paul Whiteley at Essex University, who said: "The scenario [Labour] are describing is extremely unlikely." He said Labour would still win comfortably if 10 per cent of its supporters switched to the Liberal Democrats, which would hurt the Tories because Mr Kennedy's party would take seats off them. Mr Kennedy dismissed Labour's warnings as "pretty pathetic", saying that voting Liberal Democrat could stop Mr Blair winning another big majority.

The first sign of Labour's rethink came yesterday when it issued a document attacking the economic policies of both the other main parties. Until now, Labour has focused on the Tories' plans.

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