Victorious Campbell pledges policy overhaul

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Indy Politics

Sir Menzies Campbell, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, has told his party he will not settle for a quiet life as he pledged to overhaul its policies and organisation.

The party's 64-year-old elder statesman plans to sharpen up the Liberal Democrats' performance to prevent them being squeezed by a Tory party revived under David Cameron and a Labour Party that will also be under new management at the next general election.

Sir Menzies, who will spell out his strategy in a speech to the spring conference in Harrogate on Sunday, believes the party needs more credibility on policy, particularly on the economy, in order to add to its 63 MPs at the next election.

He won 57.8 per cent of the votes to 42.1 per cent for his nearest rival Chris Huhne, the party's Treasury spokesman, after the second-preference votes of those backing the third-placed candidate, Simon Hughes, were redistributed.

In the first round, Sir Menzies won 44.7 per cent of the votes, Mr Huhne 32.1 per cent and Mr Hughes, the Liberal Democrat president, 23.2 per cent. Insiders believe that Mr Huhne did well among activists but Sir Menzies hoovered up the votes of the so-called "armchair members" among whom he is better known.

The turnout in the postal ballot of the party's 73,000 members was 72 per cent, 10 points higher than when Charles Kennedy was elected in 1999.

In his acceptance speech, Sir Menzies vowed that he would be more than just " a safe pair of hands". He said: "Let me make it clear now that caution and consolidation will not do."

He went on: "I am going to modernise our party so as to make a reality of three-party politics in Britain. And I'm going to show that the Liberal Democrats are the party of ideas and innovation in Britain." He promised to bring on the "brightest and best" young generation of MPs as he took the party "back towards government".

"Today is a victory not for me but for all Liberal Democrats. We have confounded our critics who wrote us off," he said.

Listing his policy priorities, Sir Menzies pledged to lead "a crusade against poverty, the poverty of income and the poverty of aspiration". He said the party would champion environmental protection and a democratic revolution against the unelected quango state, the unaccountable power of central government and official secrecy.

Allies of Mr Huhne said he had marked himself out as a future leader by running a strong campaign that took him from rank outsider to a creditable second place only 8,000 votes behind Sir Menzies.

The former journalist, who became an MP only last May, said the new leader had a "hard-won and decisive mandate to lead this party to new advances with the backing of all of us".

He said the "thoughtful and good-tempered contest" had shown the party was the most united in Britain around the key issues and had made "the right decision".

The contest was a disappointment for Mr Hughes, whose backers at the outset had believed he would run Sir Menzies close. He lost support after denying he was gay in an interview with The Independent and then saying he was bisexual.

Mr Hughes said: "I am absolutely clear that this party has a great future; I am absolutely clear that liberal democracy has a great future."

Mr Kennedy, who was ousted in January after conceding he had a drink problem, said: "We have got a strong leadership under Menzies and he will have my full and enthusiastic and loyal support. There is a vitality within our party and there's an enthusiasm about our party. We have got a strong leadership as a result of the turnout and the clear-cut nature of the mandate."

Sir Menzies will announce a new front bench team next week, with three senior posts to be filled - his former jobs as deputy leader and foreign affairs spokesman and the home affairs brief previously held by Mark Oaten, who resigned after allegations of an affair with a rent boy.

Norman Baker, who backed Sir Menzies, resigned yesterday as the party's environment spokesman, saying he wanted to devote more time to his constituency work.

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