Party backs Ashdown's anti-Tory strategy

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The Independent Online
Paddy Ashdown yesterday secured a handsome endorsement of his promise that the Liberal Democrats would not prop up a minority Tory government after the next election amid numerous pledges from the leadership that this will not mean "cosying up to Labour".

But in an interview published today, Tony Blair indicated he was prepared to co-operate with the Liberal Democrats both before and after a general election.

Only a handful of Liberal Democrat representatives on the first day of the party's Glasgow conference backed a call to throw out a strategy document saying "every vote for the Liberal Democrats at the next election will be a vote to remove the Conservative government".

The party leadership hopes that having secured formal backing for its anti-Tory strategy on the first day, the conference will now focus on a set of distinctive policy priorities.

Robert Maclennan, the party's president, echoed the terms of the document by promising that while there would be no "quarter for the Tories", there would also be "no let-up for Labour". In a speech which refused to rule out eventual talks with Labour, he said their new strategy left the Liberal Democrats as "a unique, independent party with an agenda which we present as our own".

In today's Times, Mr Blair said that he was prepared to discuss key policies with Paddy Ashdown before an election and to discuss legislation with them afterwards, even if Labour has a comfortable majority.

Yesterday Lord Holme, the Liberal Democrat's principal election strategist, excoriated an "exhausted" Tory government "depleted of ideas" but unequivocally ruled out any prospect of pre-election pacts with Labour. He said the party's triumph in the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election had demonstrated it could win seats in every region of the country.

The sharpest note of dissent was sounded by Brian Moore, a prominent member of the Liberal Democrat opposition to Labour on Newcastle council, who said that the party's councillors in the North were fighting "a Labour Party as new as neolithic man".

The latest MORI poll for the Sunday Times indicates that 55 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters favour a coalition with Labour, as opposed to 30 per cent who would like to see a coalition with the Tories.

Conference reports, page 8