The Liberal Democrats in Harrogate: Veterans urge party to find political allies

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Unless Liberal Democrats were prepared to dilute their political purity and find allies at a national level, their policies on constitutional reform, European unity and a sustainable economy would never be implemented, the party was warned by some of its election veterans.

Jenny Tonge, who came close to beating the Conservatives in Richmond and Barnes, said: 'For heaven's sake, let's stop being content with the prospect of life after death if we stay pure on the moral high ground.'

Labour and Green voters had set aside party allegiances and voted for her in order to try and defeat the Government, and in other constituencies, if there was dialogue, Liberal Democrats might have to find the courage to do the same, Ms Tonge said.

But on the other side of the strategy argument, Liz Lynne, the MP for Rochdale, accused Labour of intimidation and threatening behaviour. There could be discussions with individuals but no formal discussions or dialogue with the Labour Party, she declared.

'Socialism isn't dead in some Labour Parties and that's what I fear,' Ms Lynne said. 'We have to be very careful we are not seen as pro-Labour, or simply and exclusively anti-Conservative.'

Ms Tonge told the conference: 'Liz Lynne should know she should be building bridges in Rochdale, not blowing them up.'

Tom McNally, former Labour MP and a founder member of the SDP, unsuccessfully argued for an amendment to the strategy motion welcoming moves by members of the Labour Party and others to help build a consensus in key policy areas.

'We would be putting the ball into the court of Jonathon Porritt and John Smith, saying that leaving this Conservative government in office is a betrayal of the British people; we are willing to change to try and bring an end to this rule; what are you going to do about it?'

But Tony Greaves, Lancashire county councillor, denounced the 'cuddling up' approach. He drew loud applause as he reiterated the long-haul alternative of community politics, building up support from council level. In areas like his, if the Liberal Democrats got closer to Labour, people would simply vote Labour, Mr Greaves said. 'People will say 'why vote for the organ grinder when you can vote for the monkey?' I did mean it that way round.'

Jim Wallace, MP for Orkney and Shetland, co-operated with Labour and other groups on the Scottish constitutional convention and would do it again.

'Participating in a joint venture on a single issue doesn't mean cosying up to the party on every other issue,' Mr Wallace said. 'It is not an admission of doubt or weakness, it is a demonstration of our confidence in our policies and in our Liberal Democratic values.'

(Photograph omitted)