Labour launch attack on Lib Dems

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The Independent Online
A DEEP rift in the closer relations between the Government and the Liberal Democrats has been opened by an internal Labour Party document warning supporters to "fight every Liberal because we know the Liberal game".

Tony Blair yesterday gave his authority to the party rank and file to go onto the attack against the Liberal Democrats at a Labour local government conference in Manchester, saying a vote for Paddy Ashdown's party was a "leap in the dark".

The tone of the attacks on the Liberal Democrats will be seen as evidence that the Lib-Lab co-operation at Cabinet level, which was set back by the resignation of Peter Mandelson and the decision by Mr Ashdown to stand down from his party's leadership, will be slowed down.

The internal Labour Party document, which The Independent has obtained, will also infuriate Liberal Democrats by emphasising the Government will not be rushed into holding a referendum on proportional representation for Westminster elections.

The memorandum says the system proposed by the Jenkins commission cannot be implemented before the next election because of the need for a boundary review.

Frustration over the failure to make progress on PR before the next election may have played a part in Mr Ashdown's decision to step down.

Called Making Britain Better, the briefing note on the forthcoming local and European elections urges party rank and file supporters to highlight the hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats' campaign.

"Social justice is our rallying cry. Social justice is a division between the parties. But don't be kidded. We need to fight ever Liberal too because we know the Liberal game. In one place they talk more Tory than Tories; in another, more Labour than Labour.

"And that's the difference we have to make clear. Labour is a national party, a party of principle. And those principles, our values, are the same for Labour in Scotland, Wales, England or Europe," says the memorandum.

Mr Blair remains personally committed to the modernisation "project" with the Liberal Democrats, but the attacks on the Liberal Democrats show that opponents of moves towards a coalition, led by John Prescott, appear to succeeding in applying the brakes.

Another Cabinet critic, Margaret Beckett, Leader of the Commons and Labour's campaign co-ordinator, used the briefing's language yesterday at the Manchester conference, accusing the Liberal Democrats of "facing all ways at once".

She told supporters: "We want you to understand loud and clear there are areas where the Liberals are actively fighting us - and where they are, we fight back."

The Prime Minister said he would to continue to work with the Liberal Democrats on areas where they were agreed, such as the need to modernise the constitution.

But Mr Blair told party supporters to go onto the offensive where the Liberal Democrats were wrong: "They're wrong when they say a penny on income tax is the answer to every problem, especially when we've already spent several times what a penny would have raised".