Revealed: the official Lib-Lab pact

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A formal Lib-Lab pact has been struck between Jane Ashdown and Cherie Booth, effectively stopping any election campaign television or radio interviews on the "wives' lives".

Because of election rules on broadcasting balance, the deal means that Norma Major cannot be interviewed as the wife of the Conservative leader.

One source told The Independent yesterday that it was a common technique among broadcasters to approach one party, saying the other two parties had agreed to a package, even if they had not.

"Because of the agreement reached by the two women they will all three now know that is not true," he said. "So there will be no interviews in the election."

The deal was struck some months ago after Paddy Ashdown challenged John Major about a Tory attack on Ms Booth last June.

The Liberal Democrat leader asked the Prime Minister in the Commons whether he approved the "unpleasant campaign" being run by Brian Mawhinney, the Tory party chairman, "to attack the Labour party through the Labour leader's wife".

He demanded: "Do you want an election campaign run around personality attacks, which extends even to our families? Do you approve of that?"

Mr Major said: "There is no such campaign and nor will there be any such campaign."

But Mr Mawhinney had issued copies of an article written by Ms Booth for the Times Education Supplement on school governors and he wrote to Mr Blair with a suggestion that his wife was helping to create party policy.

After Mr Ashdown's intervention, Ms Booth wrote to him to thank him and that is thought to have opened up the line of communication with Mrs Ashdown and the block on "wives' lives" interviews.

That decision has been reinforced by Mrs Major's gaffe, in an interview with the Independent Magazine on Saturday, suggesting that Labour will win the election.

Although Mrs Ashdown would not comment on the pact yesterday, it is known she feels that because the wives are not up for election, it would be unfair if anything they said harmed the chances of those standing.