Mr Kennedy must show that Lib Dems can appeal to the centre as well as the margins

Share
Related Topics

The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, has cut a thoroughly positive figure in the run-up to his party conference this week in Bournemouth. He has capitalised impressively on his party's opposition to the war in Iraq, helped - admittedly - by the embarrassing efforts of Tory leaders to wriggle out of their ill-conceived stance on the war. He has also benefited from an unusually strong front-bench team, with special mention due to the Foreign Affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell. The result is a cogent and considered manifesto.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, has cut a thoroughly positive figure in the run-up to his party conference this week in Bournemouth. He has capitalised impressively on his party's opposition to the war in Iraq, helped - admittedly - by the embarrassing efforts of Tory leaders to wriggle out of their ill-conceived stance on the war. He has also benefited from an unusually strong front-bench team, with special mention due to the Foreign Affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell. The result is a cogent and considered manifesto.

So when Mr Kennedy says, as he has done in pre-conference interviews, that the party is poised for an electoral breakthrough, this is no idle day-dream. It is a reasonable expectation, which is also confirmed by recent opinion polls. As Mr Kennedy has also said, however, and repeated yesterday, this depends on the party presenting a credible alternative to what is already on offer. And that requires the Lib Dems not only to have policies that set them apart from the other two main parties, but to have a policies and leadership package that makes them a plausible party of government. This is where Mr Kennedy still has work to do.

For all the gains made by the party in recent elections, it has failed to move convincingly or consistently into the second slot behind Labour. In the European elections, it had to settle for fourth place behind the UK Independence Party. This was not the result for which it had hoped.

Support for the European Union, its principled opposition to the Iraq war and its courageous stance on immigration are all policies that set the Lib Dems apart. On these issues, unlike Labour or the Tory party, the Lib Dems are united. They have no need of the parsing and qualifying that the other two parties have to apply. On foreign policy, the Lib Dems already present a credible alternative.

They are advancing in that direction on the economy as well. Their pre-election manifesto presents a carefully calculated set of policies, many of which make a great deal of sense. These include the proposal that many government departments, including the Treasury, should be moved out of London. And this is not cutting for cuts' sake, it is part of a wider policy to devolve much more control to the regions. This is responsible and bold; it is also something many people would probably support.

It is with the party's tax and spending proposals that the first misgivings arise. The notion of abolishing council tax, introducing a local income tax and raising the upper rate of income tax has more than superficial appeal - especially to the lower paid and pensioners. Several of the party's spending proposals are also eye-catching, including the abolition of charges for long-term care for the elderly.

The question here, however, is whether the sums add up quite as the Lib Dems say they do. Just as the lower paid and pensioners would, by and large, benefit, so middle-income earners could find themselves doubly penalised. Yet it is, by and large, middle-income professionals who are starting to lose out under the current system, too, because of the proliferation of means-tested benefits.

Nor, as the British and US experience has so graphically shown over the years, do higher taxes necessarily lead to a higher "take" for the Exchequer. The reverse can be true. The better off can afford better advice and more effective shelters for their income. It is not apparent that the Lib Dems, who tend to think the best of humanity, have necessarily thought this fully through.

Mr Kennedy goes into his party conference stronger, personally and politically, than for many a year. To achieve the "breakthrough" he has so striven for, though, he needs to show not only that the Lib Dems' arithmetic is correct, but that he and his party can appeal to the mainstream - to all those voters whom New Labour and the Tories have managed to alienate between them. Mr Kennedy's task for the week is to show that he can broaden his party's appeal and make the Lib Dems the credible alternative they deserve to be.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Police officers attempt to stop illegal migrants from jumping onto trucks headed for Britain in the northeastern French port of Calais on October 29, 2014  

Tighter security in Calais won’t solve the problem

Nigel Morris
 

Football needs its Martin Luther moment, and soon

Boyd Tonkin
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines