Ashdown warns Kennedy over strategy

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Indy Politics

Sir Paddy Ashdown issues a stark warning to his successor, Charles Kennedy, today not to alienate moderate Tories by striking the "easy attitudes of the old left". He attacks Tony Blair who, he predicts, will not be seen as "a great prime minister" or "political thinker".

Days after the Liberal Democrats had their best election result for 70 years, their former leader warns Mr Kennedy not to occupy territory vacated by the Labour Party with hard-line tax and spend policies that would alienate moderate Conservatives.

"Our territory (literal and ideological) is best defended by out-thinking New Labour; by being ahead of them, not to the left of them," Sir Paddy says today in The Independent.

In the strongest warning yet about the direction Mr Kennedy is taking his party, Sir Paddy says the Liberal Democrats risk being perceived as "the defenders against change in the public sector". He adds: "To be seen, whether justly or not, as the chief proponents of simple tax and spend and the chief defenders of the producer interest in the public sector will not be a good way to retain the growing number of seats we hold from the Tories.

"Our ability to continue to grow will depend on being clear about our role in these changed circumstances, adventurous about new thinking and, above all, on resisting the temptation to strike the easy attitudes of the old left."

Sir Paddy is highly critical of the Prime Minister. "Tony Blair is not (I would like to add 'yet', but cannot yet bring myself to) a great prime minister," he says. "He is certainly not a great political thinker or philosopher ­ unlike Gordon Brown, he is far less interested in ideas and creeds than in pragmatics. But he is a great strategist and positioner."

Mr Kennedy has moved Nick Harvey from health to culture and Paul Tyler from chief whip to the job of shadowing the Leader of the House. Ed Davey, Mark Oaten and Evan Harris were promoted in his frontbench team. Menzies Campbell, Simon Hughes and Matthew Taylor were retained in front-bench jobs.