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Lib Dem leader launches attack on UK rivals

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Sep 17 (Reuters) Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell launched a fierce attack on his rivals today accusing Prime Minister Tony Blair of making ''policy up on the hoof'' and calling the Conservatives policies ''utter guff''.

In a speech at his first party conference as leader, Campbell also mocked David Cameron, the leader of opposition Conservatives, saying he was doing ''little more than running a new advertising agency''.

Campbell, who replaced Charles Kennedy as leader in March, is facing intense scrutiny for his own performance in the job after critics said he had made a faltering start, especially in parliament.

He faces a crucial vote over his tax proposals next week when he is expected to face challenges from within his own ranks over plans to ditch the party's flagship policy of a 50 pence top rate of income tax on earnings over 100,000 pounds.

However he attempted to use this to his advantage today telling party members they could make major decisions on policy while the other two parties' conferences were ''meaningless'' and ''powerless''.

''Tony Blair has a habit of announcing policy on the hoof, sometimes without even informing his bickering cabinet, let alone his party members,'' he said.

However, he saved most of his criticism for Cameron, who has seen his party climb significantly in opinion polls since he took over as leader last December.

''THE SAATCHI AND SAATCHI PARTY'' Campbell dubbed the Conservatives the ''Saatchi and Saatchi party'', a reference to the advertising agency which produced well-known campaigns for the Tories under Margaret Thatcher.

He also described Cameron's plan for the party's future direction as ''the most flimsy, policy-free, motherhood and apple pie document ever produced by a political party''.

On the other hand he said his tax proposals were the ''most comprehensive, green and progressive tax reform presented by a political party in decades.'' His new policy aims for a 2 pence cut in the basic rate of income tax, punitive environmental taxes and raising the earnings threshold for the top rate of 40 per cent.

Asked earlier in a BBC interview if his leadership would be questioned if he lost the vote, Campbell insisted that ''this is not High Noon'' and he would only be ''disappointed'' if he lost.

If his proposals, which face a vote on Tuesday, are approved by the party faithful, the Lib Dems would be vying for the same ground as the Conservatives -- traditionally the low tax party.

The latest opinion poll in The Sunday Mirror gave the Lib Dems 21 per cent support, and analysts say the party could have a significant role at the next election due to predictions there could be a hung parliament.

Reuters SAM RS2233

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