Ashdown heralds era of reform

Paddy Ashdown yesterday greeted a "seismic shift" in British politics and looked forward to the possibility of a "great Parliament of reform".

Mr Ashdown, at the head of an election campaign which ruthlessly targeted winnable seats and ignored hopeless cases, celebrated the election of 45 Liberal Democrat MPs compared with 20 at the last election. The Liberal Democrat leader pointed out that it was the best result for any third party since 1929.

While the Liberal Democrats' share of the national vote was slightly below the 18 per cent achieved in 1992, the focused nature of the election strategy enabled them to pick up most of the 50 seats they targeted. Party officials argued, however, that a fairer electoral system would have doubled the Liberal Democrat representation.

Mr Ashdown said: "The Conservatives have suffered an election catastrophe of earthquake proportions. No doubt they will now understand the injustice of the first past the post electoral system."

Mr Ashdown's aides emphasised Tony Blair's recently reaffirmed pledge to set up a commission to investigate proportional representation as a means of electing MPs.

The timetable agreed by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats would mean that a commission on the issue would report in a year's time and there would be a referendum on its recommendations within two years. Depending on the result of the plebiscite, the Liberal Democrats say that a new system would be in place by the next general election.

Mr Ashdown pointed out that two-thirds of the new House of Commons was committed to the establishment of the commission and that Liberal Democrat MPs would co-operate with the Government to ensure that the process went ahead as agreed.

The Liberal Democrat leader said his party would assist the new administration where that was possible and provide "vigorous opposition" when it was required. They would be a "constructive opposition".

He also said his party would now make a far more effective opposition than the Conservatives who would be preoccupied with internal arguments.

Asked by journalists at yesterday's final press conference what he thought of Mr Major's powers of leadership, Mr Ashdown said he had fought "an honourable - almost lonely campaign". And he added: "Anyone who has watched it cannot but admire his personal determination and his personal courage. It has been a remarkable sight. He is a decent man leading what is a terrible party."

Liberal Democrat strategists yesterday claimed the result as a triumph for its policy of targeting marginal constituencies. They had also tried to persuade the electorate that they could be "winners" - emphasising the fact that they were the second largest party in local government.

Chris Rennard, the party's director of campaigns and elections, said that party had also clarified what it stood for. In the 1992, the Liberal Democrats had emphasised their policies on constitutional reform and the doctrine of "equidistance" between Labour and Conservatives. This time they had hammered home their commitment to education and health and were open about the need for more tax to finance it.

Mr Ashdown was prominent on the hustings and his reputation for integrity and his tireless campaigning had proved a vote-winner, Mr Rennard said.

In Taunton, for example, the Liberal Democrats were 3,336 behind the Tories in the 1992 election, securing 41 per cent of the vote, compared with the Tories' 46 per cent. This time, Jackie Ballard, the Liberal Democrat candidate, got 43 per cent of the vote to the Tories' 39 per cent. "We knew we could win if people thought we could win," said Mr Rennard.

In some editions yesterday, we wrongly reported that Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, had lost his Southwark North and Bermondsey seat. In fact, Mr Hughes won by a margin of 3,400 over Labour.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink