Election '97: Greens badger Ashdown over backing for bypass Paddy heads off heated debate with debate 45/45 oveyr 2

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The Independent Online
Paddy Ashdown attempted to spend quality time with a dormouse and a pantomine cow yesterday. Amid eco-heckling from Green Party activists and interjections from the ersatz bovine creature, Mr Ashdown tried to explain his party's support for the Newbury by-pass.

The front end of the cow was protesting over the construction of the road, as indeed was the back end. The Liberal Democrat leader addressed the head of the cow, arguing that while the by-pass would have an environmental impact, it was infinitely preferable to the current state of affairs. The Liberal Democrats' own polling had shown 87 per cent of residents supported the decision.

The arguments were having little impact on the beast and Mr Ashdown was advised by a party activist that he was talking to the wrong end of the animal.

The cow confided to The Independent that it was an eco-criminal, having been arrested for trespassing on the by-pass construction site. As a condition of bail, the cow, or Rockin' Rosie, as she called herself, regularly attended the local police station.

The dormouse, which took its place among a dozen eccentric protesters outside Greenham Court primary school, felt even more aggrieved. "Let's have a debate. Let the badger have his say," said a magnanimous Mr Ashdown to the rodent.

"I'm not a badger, I'm a dormouse," came the reply. "Most of my bat and badger friends were killed during the by-pass construction. I am very, very lonely."

The protesters tried to stop Mr Ashdown entering the school but were brushed aside by an unlikely alliance of police and Liberal Democrats.