Ashdown gambles on change of direction: Lib Dems aim to sharpen image

A CONCERTED attempt to sharpen the image and policies of the Liberal Democrats in the run-up to a series of election challenges was launched yesterday by Paddy Ashdown, the party leader.

A calculated gamble by Mr Ashdown to omit attacks on the Government from a keynote speech at the Cardiff spring conference follows four months of intensive back-room work on shaping a more distinctive party identity.

The speech, leaving 'the purely negative attacks to Labour' and dripping with references to education, signals Mr Ashdown's intention to construct a far stronger domestic profile, after months of being immersed in the detail of the war in Bosnia.

Mr Ashdown told delegates that the country knew what was wrong. 'What they want to hear is what we are going to do about it, how we are going to put things right.'

Mr Ashdown's quest for a more distinctive role in the world of practical politics - in the wake of his tour around Britain and his book, Beyond Westminster - sees him relegate the once weighty issue of electoral reform to a single reference to 'fair votes'.

The Liberal Democrats are likely to score well in the council elections on 5 May and win the Eastleigh by-election by exploiting deep disenchantment with the Government's policies. But party managers are also acutely aware of the two main parties' favourite weapon, that voters do not know what Liberal Democrats stand for. The Tories and Labour plan to play that card heavily in the forthcoming contests.

Spotlighting education as the big issue is calculated to help to lift the party from its primary status as repository for the protest vote. The party's strength in local government means that Liberal Democrats can exert real influence over budgets.

The message that education is the key to three aims - providing opportunity, investing in tomorrow, and cleaning up 'the mess that is undermining our democracy' - came as Mr Ashdown said: 'It is simply illogical for Michael Howard (the Home Secretary) to say that he can cut crime while his Cabinet colleagues are forcing councils to cut their education budgets.'

The battle against crime began not on the streets but in the classroom, he said.

Alongside the 1992 election commitment to pounds 2bn a year extra education spending, costing an extra 1p on income tax, Mr Ashdown's list of 'what Liberal Democrats will do' includes converting dole payments into subsidies for employers to take on the long- term unemployed.

There would also be childcare vouchers to help single parents trapped on benefit into work, and freedom for local councils to spend sale receipts on creating jobs in home building.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat