THE Liberal Democrats may well have emerged from the post-Kennedy, post-Campbell doldrums with a much strengthened team. With only 511 votes between them in more than 41'000 cast in the leadership contest, both the winner Nick Clegg and runner-up Chris Huhne have shown themselves to have a broad base of support in the party. A further gain has been the emergence of Vince Cable, during his spell as acting leader, as an impressive House of Commons performer and a particularly well-informed person on international economic issues. Add the experienced Ming Campbell and the canny Charles Kennedy in the background, and the LibDems may be in a better position to establish themselves as the effective third party that British politics needs than they have been for many years. The competition between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne for the leadership was more a matter of personality than policy. Broadly speaking, they are both strongly pro-Europe and equally strongly opposed to the incursions on individual liberty represented by ID cards and any increase in the permitted length of detention without charge. And although the LibDems' early championship of green issues has now become common political ground there is still need for a party which works hard at the detail and exposes the often facile solutions of both the Labour government and Conservative opposition. There is unquestionably a constructive role for the Liberal Democrats to play and Mr Clegg should seize the opportunity to play it.


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