The Liberal Democrat Conference: Kennedy calls for forum on reforms: A tough battle for constitutional changes is in prospect. Stephen Goodwin reports.

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The Independent Online
SELLING constitutional change to the British electorate would be 'a tough haul' and reformers of all political allegiances need to get together to prepare the way ahead, Charles Kennedy, the outgoing president of the Liberal Democrats, said yesterday.

The 'Maastricht miasma' and the trouble the last Labour government got into when it tried to deliver devolution for Scotland and Wales were salutary lessons, the MP for Ross, Cromarty and Skye told a fringe meeting.

He suspected that not nearly enough consideration had been given as to how even part of the 'shopping list' of constitutional reform could be steered through the 'shark-infested waters' of Parliament, or how it was to be sold to the electorate.

The list could include a change in the voting system, parliaments for Scotland and Wales, reforming the House of Lords, the European Union and Ireland.

'If some greater political thought and public persuasion is not pursued in the second half of this parliament, then any new administration embarking on such a voyage of constitutional discovery is unlikely to make it to the new world. Instead it might be a case of preparing the parliamentary lifeboats.

'Would-be reformers of all political allegiances should be getting together and talking through not just the desirability of the measures themselves, but how best to deliver them.'

Mr Kennedy said John Major had played the 'Union card' to considerable effect at the last election. 'Alas, not enough of us woke up to its potency in time.' Warning that the electorate did not like uncertainty, he predicted that the Union Flag would be on prominent display again, particularly over Europe.

'The fear of the unknown will be appealed to again. Not just the constitutionally unknown - but the politically uncertain as well.'

Shirley Williams, the Liberal Democrat peer, said last night that no political party could honestly promise full employment. What they could do was to reconstruct the benefit system so that benefits subsidised work rather than enforced idleness.