The new deal comes in the wake of the Jenkins report on PR, the pronounced reticence of the government leadership on the promised referendum and news of the Millbank "dirty tricks" department.
The overwhelming impression of the Liberal Democrat leader's response to all this is one of panic: Mr Ashdown's breathtakingly speedy abandonment of his democratic principles, by co-signing this deal without any grass roots consultation, smacks of a man gripped with fear that his PR dream is slipping through his fingers. But his actions may have signed his own political death warrant.
Mr Blair must think he cannot lose. Although this apparent policy to kill off the Liberal Democrats as a party, effectively killing off political reform in the process, is not without its risks - a backlash from pro- reform MPs in his own party for example - he is insuring as far as possible his own place in No 10 and New Labour's parliamentary majority using some of the slyest tricks in the book.
But if the latest manoeuvrings by Blair and Ashdown dishearten members of their own parties, then the leaders should pay heed also to the people who have been staying away from the ballot box in increasingly large numbers, because all of this will do nothing to tempt them back, and may yet see their numbers swell.
Mrs ALEXANDRA WILKIN
Hull, East YorkshireReuse content