PADDY ASHDOWN, leader of the Liberal Democrats, will today launch his most ambitious challenge yet to the current basis of political debate with a warning that the advanced democracies, including Britain, face a 'crisis of governability'.
In a lecture in Scotland Mr Ashdown is expected to suggest that the contempt for and distrust of party politicians in Britain is what has caused the rise of Ross Perot in the USA and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian media magnate.
He will boldly argue that the real damage inflicted by the ridiculing of John Major's 'back to basics' slogan because of a spate of petty personal scandals has been inflicted on all the main politicial parties.
He will challenge the Opposition parties to accept that in rejoicing at the Conservatives' steep decline in popularity they are missing the 'withdrawal of support for the political system itself'.
Mr Ashdown will return, in the Williamson Memorial Lecture, at Stirling University, to his theme that there is a 'dangerous' gulf between politicians and the ordinary voters which is being fuelled by a frenzy, both in the press and in politics itself, to be obsessed with the personal and the petty, while great public examples go unremarked.'
He will attack the incestuous nature of Westminster, hypocrisy on both sides of the political divide about taxation, and the sterility and confrontational point-scoring inherent in parliamentary events like Prime Minister's Question Time.
He is expected to argue that the Thatcher revolution was only half a revolution, the second half of which has yet to come. Where the previous Prime Minister liberated markets and spread the economic power of the state, what was now needed was the spreading the political power of the state to people.
In this way he will argue that politicians have a better chance of harnessing the energies of individuals already acting - for example through voluntary co-operation in communities - outside the main political system.