Lib Dem welcome for Blair victory

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TONY BLAIR's imminent election as opposition leader was warmly welcomed yesterday by a prominent group of Liberal Democrats, who also warned that it had 'buried' the vision that their party could replace Labour, writes Donald Macintyre.

An editorial in Reformer, the party's independent policy journal, is implicitly critical of the approach adopted by Paddy Ashdown, the party leader, by warning against seeking 'artificial philosophical differences' between the two parties.

The magazine - whose editorial board is chaired by Charles Kennedy, the outgoing party president and includes a number of former Social Democratic Party members - opens its editorial by dismissing suggestions that the shadow Home Secretary 'represents nothing'.

It says that Mr Blair 'has a clear, often articulated mission, to drag the Labour Party into the 1990s' and in his emphasis on society liberating the individual and his support for a dynamic market economy, he 'sounds like a social democrat'.

In a reference to Mr Ashdown's emphasis on governments providing full 'employability' rather than employment it says this 'might make a nice soundbite but has no meaning'.

The article was published as David Blunkett, the party's health spokesman, broke his neutrality in the Labour leadership contest by endorsing Tony Blair as leader and John Prescott as deputy, in a Daily Mirror article.