Simon Carr: Is leftiness susceptible to a sharp knife?

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The Independent Online

Now then. There are many positive things to say about the Liberal Democrats but I leave the task of describing them to people with the necessary vocabulary. Let us instead enter into the spirit of the brown seas of Blackpool and look at Britain's third party from the other end.

Charles Kennedy is the most successful leader his adolescent party has ever had. He has now come to sufficient prominence for people to want to get rid of him. He has increased his party's share of the vote by seven percentage points (or by 50 per cent as psephologists say). But polls show that a very large proportion of people would vote for his party if it had a better leader.

Charles has adopted a new persona. It's impressive. The jibber jabber is the same (purists say it's slightly more jibbery than jabbery) but the delivery is grave, stern, tending to the indomitable.

Simon Kelner asked: "Vince Cable said you may abandon the idea of a 50p top rate of tax. Where do you stand on that?" The answer came out in a stream of prize-winning drivel.

The first observable words were "fairness simplicity transparency" followed by "the mechanism is a means to an end delivery effectively what you want to achieve". It made Cantona sound like Mother Goose. "Resile Liberal Democrats very best off a bit more for the same public services absolutely flabbergasted."

No argument there. "But look at the tax profile and those that we apply the 50 per cent to 1 per cent but how many that aspire to that tax bracket is another question to hinder aspirations and should we be doing that?"

"So are you for it or against it?" Kelner persisted. "I'm having a review," he said crisply. We understood that. He was asking for a dull, mature debate so the party could be pulled out of its left- wing hovel into the mainstream where the great rewards of office are. ("Power is tantalisingly close," he said, dreamily.)

The question is, how will they preserve their reputation for being "honest and principled" as they carve out the leftiness in their party's soul, with kitchen knives if necessary? So here's something positive, at last. Both opposition parties are starting to think about beginning to consider the process of party transformation that Tony Blair completed a decade ago with Labour. The more you look at the Liberal Democrats and the Tories the more you have to admire the Prime Minister.