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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Porter / Concierge

£16000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks