Right of Reply: Norman Baker

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The Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes replies to

David Aaronovitch's

call for a closer

Lib-Lab relationship

SURE, THERE is much common ground between Lib Dems and Labour. But there are also many differences. We are friends, but not family. Friends can get along fine, but different blood flows through these two parties' veins.

There is a fundamental philosophical difference. Tony Blair may have shed his socialist clothes, but he retains a top-down, centralist approach, anathema to Liberal Democrats. He wants to use the state more than we do to regulate people's lives, whether it's Jack Straw's curfews, or beef- on-the-bone bans.

Sometimes there seems to be a willingness to relinquish power - the creation of a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly, and an authority for London. But Tony Blair wants to control from afar these "devolved" bodies. He wants to be loved for being open and liberal, but wants to retain power by other means.

Then there is the Freedom of Information Bill. It was drafted, it was ready to go, but instead it was its architect, David Clark, who went. The Bill has now been given to the minister allegedly most sceptical about it, Jack Straw.

Our second fundamental disagreement is on the environment. There is no recognition that environmental policy should permeate all Government policy. The Treasury continues to regard green issues with haughty disdain or as easy ways to raise revenue. The Queen's Speech only mentioned the environment once. There is no legislation on it. Even the Bill on the strategic rail authority has been shunted away.

These are fundamental differences for us. It is right to oppose a Queen's Speech which does not address these issues from a Liberal perspective. That will not stop us co-operating where we can. But as friends, not family.

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