Lib Dems warned against anti-Labour attacks

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Political Editor

An influential call to fellow Liberal Democrats not to allow the party's conference this month to become the platform for a barrage of anti-Labour attacks was made yesterday by Chris Davies, the new Liberal Democrat MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth.

The call by Mr Davies, who has the added authority of having won a by- election victory despite a fierce and highly personalised campaign by Labour, could help to damp down criticism of the party leader Paddy Ashdown's decision in May to break with his party's "equidistance" between the two main parties last May.

In his forthright and candid article in Liberal Democrat NewsMr Davies says the Liberal Democrats can feel "pretty good", thanks in part to Peter Mandelson, the Labour MP who orchestrated the campaign against the party. He claims: "Thanks to Mandelson we also have the satisfaction of knowing that Labour activists feel very unhappy indeed about the nature of the campaign they fought."

But he adds: "Having given my opponents a good whacking with a ballot box, I feel no strong desire to sustain a personal grudge. In any case, I am conscious that the experience of one by-election campaign, or indeed even the examples of appalling Labour practice in councils around the country, should not blind us to the broader picture. It is a fact that on a number of issues Labour has moved closer to the Liberal Democrat position.

"Our task at [the party conference in] Glasgow is not to attack Labour but to take advantage of our own feel-good factor, promote our distinctive identity, and make sure that Liberal Democrat sympathisers throughout the country can feel good about voting for us."

Mr Ashdown's own supporters have been gratified at the lack of internal conflict precipitated by his decision to make it clear for the first time in the spring that the party would not be prepared to prop up a minority Tory government. The only motion submitted for the conference on the issue was supportive. Moreover, some strategists believe that the tough fight between the two Opposition parties at Littleborough and Saddleworth has helped to allay fears among potential critics demonstrate that Mr Ashdown's spring announcement does not mean the party will be "soft" on Labour.

Mr Davies rules out election pacts but stresses that he has no "tribalist" problems in open inter-party discussion about ideas.