Lib Dems to review every party policy

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The Liberal Democrats announced a sweeping policy review yesterday to try to build on their best election performance for more than 70 years.

The move, launched in the run-up to next week's party conference in Bournemouth, was hailed as the first comprehensive study of Liberal Democrat philosophy since the 1980s. New working groups will discuss policy on public services and liberal democracy over the next year. The party said there would be "no shibboleths, no totems and no taboos" in confronting controversial issues.

The Liberal Democrats confounded their own expectations by winning 52 seats at the June election with a 19 per cent share of the vote. They have been further buoyed by the prolonged acrimony of the Tory leadership campaign, leading them to predict they could soon become the official opposition.

Alan Beith, the deputy leader, who will chair the liberal democracy working party, accused the Tories of being stuck in an "anti-European ghetto" and claimed his party was winning over "moderate" Conservative voters.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, has made clear his determination to steer the party in a new direction. He is preparing to announce the party is quitting the joint cabinet committee of ministers and senior Liberal Democrats.

The party's general election performance and its success in local government elections in cities such as Liverpool and Sheffield has encouraged it to strike out in a more independent direction. Chris Huhne, an MEP who will chair the working group on public services, said: "The remit is wide and clear. How can we provide better services for patients, pupils and passengers?" Discussions would include the role of the private sector in health and education.

* The journalist and broadcaster Jackie Rowley was appointed Mr Kennedy's senior press secretary yesterday. She will take over from Daisy Sampson on 1 October.