Charles Kennedy ready for battle

CHARLES Kennedy is today preparing for a busy few weeks.Not only is he preparing to lead his second general election campaign as party leader, he and his wife Sarah are also getting used to life with their first child.

CHARLES Kennedy is today preparing for a busy few weeks.

Not only is he preparing to lead his second general election campaign as party leader, he and his wife Sarah are also preparing for the birth of their first child.

But while that leaves him juggling his home and public life, it's a challenge he is clearly relishing as the battle is set to commence.

His party is approaching the campaign buoyed with optimism. Although recent polls have shown a fractional dip in support for the LibDems, they are still approaching the election on their highest-ever poll rating - and past experience suggests they will pick up votes during the campaign.

Mr Kennedy said: “We are approaching the election with optimism and with a real belief that we will do well. We don't see any areas of the country as no-go areas for Liberal Democrats. During the current parliament we have seen great success in areas where we have never done anything before.

“We won the by-elections in Brent East and Leicester South - that showed the kind of area we will be aiming at.”

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And his party is looking to build on its strong showing in the Ipswich by-election at the end of 2001.

“That was a very quick campaign, the fastest on record. Labour wanted a quick campaign in Ipswich to prevent us from getting our momentum going.

“But we had a very good result, almost coming in second and being the only party to increase its vote. We shall be fighting very hard in Ipswich to build on that success and give people a real alternative to the other two parties.”

Young people have told the Star that they feel this election is being fought on issues that don't affect them. A group of students said: “This election is all about the grey vote and people who are rich.”

Mr Kennedy said his party was very keen to attract young voters - and had policies they could support. “We have said we will abolish tuition fees and, of course, we are opposed to the war in Iraq. They are issues which we know young people care deeply about - and they are issues which a lot of people will be considering before they vote.”

But he emphasised that the Liberal Democrats were not only interested in the young vote. “We are also targeting older voters with our policies on personal care and proposing replacing council tax with a local income tax.”

Suffolk has not been a happy hunting ground for Liberal Democrats in recent parliamentary elections - although the party has been very successful in council elections.

In 2001 it finished third in every Suffolk parliamentary seat - but is part of the administration running the county council and also shares power at Ipswich Borough Council and Babergh District Council.

Mr Kennedy said: “So far as we are concerned there is no such thing as a no-go area.

“An awful lot of people feel they've been let down by the Labour government and feel that the Conservatives have very unpleasant policies and are turning to us as the real alternative.”

He fears the campaign could turn quite ugly.

“The Conservatives and Labour have been very negative in their campaigns so far.

“The Tories have been targeting minority interests and Labour has been launching personal attacks on the Conservative leadership. I don't think the electorate will be impressed by that - we have some good policies which we will be putting forward in a positive manner.

“We shall be putting forward our positive policies during the campaign and letting the others knock each other about.”

APRIL might mark the middle of the election campaign, but that's not the only major event in Mr Kennedy's life on his mind at present.

His wife Sarah is expecting their first child at any time - and he's clearly the proud expectant dad.

“It's slightly manic at home at the moment as we prepare for the new arrival. I spent last weekend getting things ready - like trying to work out the cot and the pram!

“There's all this activity going on, but the little one hasn't arrived yet - it's a bit like Hamlet without the prince in our household at the moment!”

Mr Kennedy is determined to be present at the birth and has made contingency plans for his Liberal Democrat colleagues to cover for him if he has to drop everything.

So long as the new arrival doesn't put in his or her appearance on election night . . .

LIBERAL Democrats have an uphill battle in Suffolk's parliamentary seats - they have been pushed into third place in the last two general elections.

However they do have a base to build because during the 1980s and in 1992 they were second - albeit a distant second - in most of the county's rural seats.

Their best hope is in the South Suffolk seat currently held by shadow cabinet minister Tim Yeo.

This time county councillor Kathy Pollard will be fighting the seat again - her party was just 2,500 votes behind second-placed Labour in 2001.

In Ipswich borough councillor Richard Atkins is hoping to come from third place - the party fought a strong campaign in the 2001 by-election and believes it was prevented from leapfrogging the other parties because the campaign was so short.