Ashdown rules out move to left

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The Independent Online
PADDY ASHDOWN, the Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday ruled out any shift to the left, in a move designed to calm critics who believe the party is moving too close to Labour, writes Stephen Castle.

With activists gathering in Glasgow today for the Liberal Democrats' annual conference, Mr Ashdown issued a statement which ruled out any further movement leftwards.

Earlier this year Mr Ashdown abandoned the party's stance of "equidistance" between Labour and the Conservatives. That was controversial among activists, particularly in the north and north-west, whose main electoral opponents are Labour.

Some delegates are expected to question the policy when the party president, Robert Maclennan, addresses the conference this afternoon.

In an apparent bid to pre-empt any row, Mr Ashdown said: "There are some in the press and some in our party who say that, as Labour moves to the right, we should move to the left.

"This is not going to happen. Others may shift but we will not. I'm proud of where we stand as a party of conscience and reform."

Party sources confirmed that the party leader's comments are designed to quell anxieties about the Liberal Democrats moving too close to Labour.

Mr Maclennan will defend Mr Ashdown's stand this afternoon. He will argue that the Liberal Democrats must not define themselves in relation to others.

'We won't go' , page 10