Ashdown warns Blair 'not to betray voters'

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The Independent Online
PADDY ASHDOWN will today warn Tony Blair that he risks betraying the voters and "damaging" the Government's working relationship with the Liberal Democrats.

In his strongest attack so far on Mr Blair, the Liberal Democrat leader will tell the Prime Minister that their joint project for constitutional reform is threatened by the expected decision to delay and water down the controversial Freedom of Information Bill.

Mr Ashdown will also use his keynote speech at his party conference in Brighton to defuse growing frustration at his policy of "constructive opposition". Many party supporters believe this has forced the leadership to pull too many punches against the Government.

Mr Ashdown has been holding back some of his party's MPs from calls to break off co-operation with the cabinet committee on constitutional reform. The frustration has been fuelled by fears that Mr Blair will renege on the promise to hold a referendum on proportional representation in this Parliament on the outcome next month of the Jenkins commission on electoral reform.

Mr Ashdown will tell Liberal Democrats they are closer than ever to achieving their goal of electoral reform and they should not "blow it" now by seeking to break off relations with the Government. Clearly damping down expectations over the Jenkins commission, he will urge them to be realistic about co- operation with the Government.

Strong evidence of grassroots Labour opposition to propor- tional representation emerged last night in a survey of 150 constituency party chairmen. In a warning shot across Tony Blair's bows as he prepares to decide whether to change the voting system for general elections, the poll suggested he will have serious problems persuading his party to support electoral reform. The survey was organised by the AEEU engineering union.