One Liberal Democrat MP, Liz Lynne, has told the party leader, Paddy Ashdown, that she will not support any coalition with Labour. Last night she said she believed that some of her backbench colleagues might take the same course. Although she would not resign the whip, she said she would take each issue on its merits and would not be bound by any Lib- Lab pact.
The talks, which are due to conclude within the next month, are aimed at reaching cross-party agreement on issues including the reform of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, a Freedom of Information Act and a Bill of Rights. They are also due to touch on proportional representation.
There has been speculation that the discussions could lead to more formal links between the two parties after the election.
Yesterday Miss Lynne criticised the talks and said they had caused great concern among party members. She added that Shirley Williams had raised a cheer at the party's conference when she said it should not give up its principles for a handful of cabinet seats. "Even frontbench colleagues of Tony Blair are not listened to. Do they think if we went into a coalition that Paddy Ashdown would be listened to? If I was planning the Labour Party campaign this is one of the things I would be plotting. It destroys our vote," she said.
Miss Lynne added that if a coalition were formed, she would not adhere to party discipline, and that some of her colleagues might do likewise. "I suspect some of my colleagues would not be bound by the party whip. I believe ours is the mainstream and the people out on a limb are those wanting to get closer to Labour," she said.
The Conservative Party's deputy chairman, Michael Trend, seized on Miss Lynne's condemnation of the "new Lib-Lab pact". He said: "Liz Lynne is a lonely voice in a Liberal Democrat Party which has surrendered its independence to New Labour. She senses correctly that voters will see no reason to vote for the Lib Dems when their only aim is to put Tony Blair into 10 Downing Street. The dishonest deal between the Lib Dems and New Labour is the double danger now facing Britain."
Asked whether he would endorse PR before the election, Mr Blair said yesterday that he had no intention of doing so. "I have always made my position clear on PR. I have not been persuaded on it. It is not about pacts or deals. I have no desire for pacts or deals. What I have is a desire to ensure that sensible constitutional change is put through in the best possible way."