The Labour Party in Blackpool: Labour and Lib Dems 'should begin dialogue'

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LABOUR and the Liberal Democrats should acknowledge that they are no longer divided by fundamental ideological differences and co-operate to create a parliamentary majority with a common programme, a fringe meeting on realignment against the Tories was urged yesterday, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Peter Kellner, the political commentator, said the differences between the two parties were less than the differences within them. 'If British politics was starting from scratch, would there be two or more parties at the progressive end? Twenty or thirty years ago one could have said yes.'

But where once there were deep divides between Liberals, Labour and Communists over issues like the role of the state and trade unions, there was now no fundamentally different design for British society.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, said Labour would be dishonest if it did not contemplate that 'one last heave' might fail and that it might lose a fifth successive election. Pacts before the next election were out, but Labour and the Liberal Democrats were going to have to deal with each other, and a dialogue in which they learnt from each other would lead to greater trust from the electorate.

Mr Kellner said local party activists would not readily accept electoral pacts involving one party's candidate standing aside but the opposition parties should start in a gentler, more open- minded way, to identify the 'building blocks' - the common causes and values - that could lead to a common position in five or ten years' time.

Calum MacDonald, Labour MP for the Western Isles, who convened the meeting in defiance of the official line, said a dialogue would help to expand each party's ideas. 'This seems desperately radical in the context of British politics but is the norm in the rest of Europe. Only in Britain do we have this narrow, insular approach. This would be understandable if the Labour Party had an enviable track record.'