Dimbleby doubts Ashdown on Maastricht pledge

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The Independent Online
Paddy Ashdown last night misled BBC television viewers when he insisted that there had been a Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment on a European referendum at the last election.

During an acerbic exchange with David Dimbleby on The Leader Interviews, the Liberal Democrat leader said that his party had proposed a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, adding: "We propose exactly the same thing today."

Mr Dimbleby said: "It's not in your manifesto in '92, a referendum for Maastricht." Mr Ashdown replied: "It was in the manifesto for 1992." The Independent, like Mr Dimbleby, was unable last night to find any reference to a Maastricht referendum in the 1992 election manifesto.

Yesterday on the hustings, Mr Ashdown failed to impress eight-year-old Lucy McMahon of Stithians Primary School, near Truro, Cornwall. Invited to contribute her political opinions to a class poster, "Government - What We Think", Lucy ventured: "You should only vote for rich or hunky men."

Asked whether Mr Ashdown fitted the bill, she smiled, declined to reply, but said Sebastian Coe did. The former athlete lives in the village and is the defending Tory candidate for the constituency.

Perhaps the most controversial comment, however, came from the whole of Class Three. "We think there should be more people like Rolf Harris," they said. One young classmate, called Morwenna, wrote: "I don't think children know what they are talking about, so should not vote." So, people who are 18 years old and over do?

An emerging right-winger called Kirsten demanded that "people should stay in prison longer". She showed a degree of political ecleticism, however, by siding with the anti-hunt lobby: "People who kill animals for fun should be put in prison for a year."

Elsewhere in Cornwall, the campaign to win over the younger generation got dirtier by the minute. The "mock election" at Saltash Community School is not for the politically squeamish.

One Tory poster, put up in a school corridor, was craftily coloured Liberal Democrat yellow and proclaimed: "The Liberal philosophy - you worked for it, now we will take it; a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for higher taxes."

Tories mysteriously failed to appear during Mr Ashdown's visit to the school. Perhaps the school philosophy at Stithians Primary should be taken on board by politicians: "Be honest, own up and don't tell lies."

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