The warning came as Mr Ashdown effectively admitted that John Smith's one member, one vote proposal for party elections and issues such as a coherent Labour policy on taxation and welfare benefits were more important than electoral reform if opposition parties were to deprive the Conservatives of another general election victory under the system as it stands.
Indicating a shift of stance since the last election, Mr Ashdown told a Westminster press gallery luncheon that the single issue of electoral reform was no longer the Liberal Democrats' 'talisman' - although it would be an important indication that Labour understood the 'element of pluralism' that had been shown by last Thursday's Newbury and county council election results.
He said the real change last Thursday was the fact that 60 per cent of the counties were now controlled by no party. 'We are all minority parties now.'
Mr Ashdown said co-operation in politics did not mean electoral pacts. Reflecting the confidence brought on by the election results he said: 'We should let things develop in their natural course.'
Labour, however, had to change because it remained 'an anathema to voters in most of those areas where the Tories have to be beaten if this government is to fall. More than anything else, this is the single fact which frustrates the emergence of the politics of co-operation and preserves the Conservative hegemony. The modernisers must now gain the upper hand.'Reuse content