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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
SEEN graffiti Wonder Woman  

Warner Bros’ bold stance on Wonder Woman opens the door for Hollywood evolution

Matthew James
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us