Lib Dems discuss response to Blair

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Indy Politics
PADDY ASHDOWN and Liberal Democrat MPs last night discussed how their party should counter the threat posed by Labour under Tony Blair at the start of a one-day seminar, at a rural retreat in Oxfordshire.

The Liberal Democrat leader, meeting with colleagues at Kiddington Hall, told the MPs that their party must seek to build on its gains in the local and European elections in May and June by striking a clear identity with policy proposals.

The party is planning to publish a set of economic policy papers on employment, sustainable growth, changes to tax and benefits and 'earmarking' taxes for special programmes, such as the commitment to raise 1p on income tax for education.

Officials said that the extent of the change in policies by Labour, if Mr Blair became leader, could not be assessed until the autumn. It is likely to be an important theme underlying the Liberal Democrats' annual conference in September.

Mr Ashdown has run into some resistance over plans to spread the policy portfolios from individuals to teams. The aim is to broaden the impact of the party at Westminster, but it has been seen as an attempt to downgrade Alan Beith, the economics spokesman, a charge the leadership has denied.

Mr Ashdown said the Tories would face renewed in-fighting over Europe, offering the Liberal Democrats further opportunity at the next election.

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