Lib Dems break formal links with Labour

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The love affair between Labour and the Liberal Democrats officially ended yesterday as Charles Kennedy withdrew from the joint policy-making body set up by his predecessor, Paddy Ashdown.

Mr Kennedy said there was "no purpose" to the joint cabinet committee set up by Tony Blair to give the Liberal Democrats a role in the formulation of government policy.

The suspension of the cabinet committee, on the eve of the Liberal Democrat conference, will be seen as a powerful symbol that Mr Kennedy wants to assert his party's independence. It will be welcomed by MPs and activists, who were critical of the close relationship.

The party received a further boost yesterday with the defection from Labour of the agony aunt Clare Rayner. Ms Rayner, who had been a Labour supporter for more than 50 years, will star in a political broadcast for the Liberal Democrats and chair a policy meeting at the conference. In a stinging attack on Labour's record, Mrs Rayner said she was "bitterly disappointed" by Mr Blair and accused the party of "galloping off to the right".