Lib Dem leader to show experience not age

Sir Menzies Campbell has been told not to shy away from the issue of his age as the Liberal Democrats gather in Brighton this week.

Senior Lib Dem strategists hope to portray their leader as an experienced elder statesman, in contrast to the far younger David Cameron.

A leaked memo from Sir Menzies’ chief of staff Edward Davey tells the leader and his front bench to look “hyperactive” at all times as the party tries to gain momentum ahead of a possible general election.

And despite rumblings that Sir Menzies’ is too old to appear a credible prime minister, he has been told that acknowledging his age – and accompanying experience and judgement – “finds favour” among Lib Dem activists.

The memo, seen by the Independent on Sunday advises the 66-year-old leader that this year’s conference should be “less daunting” than in previous years.

Despite this, today’s media coverage has focused overwhelmingly on the question mark surrounding Sir Menzies’ future.

In a bid to prevent this continuing, Liberal Democrats are planning a policy-heavy conference to distract the media with their “distinctive” policies on immigration, education and taxation.

The party will in particular seek to stress their green agenda, in a bid to portray the Conservatives as late arrivals on the environmental bandwagon.

In an interview with the Observer today, Sir Menzies reveals he is working 18-hour days, suggesting he is more than able to meet demands for “hyperactivity”.

The Lib Dem leader played down rumour surrounding his suitability.

He told the newspaper: “This time last year there was practically a coup against Tony Blair. What’s going to happen to David Cameron at his party conference? Will Lord Ancram be making an appearance? Leadership is about that, because a lot of people think they can do it better.

‘What you need is a thick skin. You set the objectives and you make sure you do everything in your power – 18-hour days – to achieve these objectives.”

Sir Menzies said the party was determined to stay on the centre ground. Despite this, the Lib Dems appear to be targeting Tory seats in the next election.

Mr Davey’s memo reveals the party will be targeting seats held by Sir Nicholas Soames and David Heathcote-Amory.

David Cameron’s mishandling of the grammar school rows and other issues also mean the Lib Dems should place renewed focus on seats including St Albans, Wells, North Wiltshire, Mid Sussex and Broadlands, it states.

Despite signs Brown’s “bounce” is dwindling, the memo predicts there is “more than a one in three” change of a general election this autumn, but says Lib Dem plans are “all in place”.