Lib Dem-Labour link urged to oust Tories: Shirley Williams calls for co-operation

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BARONESS Williams of Crosby, the Liberal Democrat peer and - as Shirley Williams - former Labour Cabinet minister, yesterday called for close co-operation, short of an electoral pact, between the two parties to oust the Tories.

Close links, which in some policy areas could amount to a common programme, would reassure the electorate that Labour would be dominated neither by the hard left nor by the trade unions, she claimed. 'The Liberal Democrats do act as a reassurance that Labour will be responsible in government,' she said.

Lady Williams said she did not want any formal pact. 'That would be a mistake,' she told Radio 4's Today programme. 'Both parties' activists would resent it.'

Tony Blair, Labour's new leader, has ruled out any such idea, while, for the past year, in both local government and national campaigning, Jack Straw, Labour's local government spokesman, has been vigorously attacking the Liberal Democrats.

Lady Williams argued, however, that at local government level there was 'a lot of evidence' that the two parties were 'beginning to work together and trust each other. I want to build on that.'

On both the need to democratise Europe and on employment and constitutional issues at home 'the two parties have a great deal in common and ought to work together towards a common programme', she said.

Labour, she maintained, would be wrong to look at its huge opinion poll lead and believe the next election was in the bag. 'I think the Conservatives are still quite deeply entrenched. I think the establishment of quangos and other bodies of that kind has given them a whole range of people who are now dependent for their income and their status on the Conservatives staying in power. It's going to take a huge effort to get them out.' She did not believe Labour could do it on its own.

There were constituencies where Labour did not have an earthly chance of winning and others where the Liberal Democrats stood little chance, but where tactical voting could make a difference, and the voters 'are clever enough to know that'.