We could not stomach a coalition with Blunkett, says frontbencher

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Liberal Democrat frontbenchers would refuse to serve in a Labour-led coalition if the next general election leads to a hung parliament, Mark Oaten, the party's home affairs spokesman warned last night.

Liberal Democrat frontbenchers would refuse to serve in a Labour-led coalition if the next general election leads to a hung parliament, Mark Oaten, the party's home affairs spokesman warned last night.

He told a packed fringe meeting hosted by The Independent that he would not be able to "stomach" government that included the Home Secretary David Blunkett. He told an audience of several hundred activists, the majority of the party's front bench would not join such a coalition without a dramatic reversal of policies on issues such as asylum and tuition fees.

Mr Oaten's remarks came as Baroness Williams of Crosby, the leader of Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, made a frank admission that "of course it is likely that Labour will win the next election".

Mr Oaten said: "The only possibility I can see of anything like that happening is if this Government were to ditch nearly all of its policies. I would find it absolutely and complete impossible to serve in any capacity whatsoever with the current Home Secretary, frankly, given the things he has done.

"I could not stomach being in a Government with the kind of brutal attacks which are constantly made in relation to asylum-seekers and on immigration. I could not stand by and be part of that and I suspect if you asked my colleagues from portfolio to portfolio they would have equally have a problem. I cannot see Phil Willis being able to have any credibilty standing next to or instead of an education secretary who was going to introduce [top-up] tuition fees.

"I just think you have that fundamental problem of having taken these positions, unless they were to ditch all of those we would not wish to be part of the Cabinet process."

His remarks appeared to contradict Charles Kennedy who, on Sunday, refused to rule out entering into a coalition with Labour. Yesterday, however, the Liberal Democrat leader played down the prospects of a Lib-Lab pact, insisting that he would not "prop up" a minority Labour government which effectively had been thrown out by the electorate."

Lady Williams said: "Talking of probabilities instead of possibilities, of course it is likely that Labour will win the next election because it is insulated by its absolutely vast majority. It would take an astonishing number of seats to switch over for that vast majority to be wiped away."

Sir Menzies Campell, the party's deputy leader, said his party would have had to pull out of a coalition with Labour had Tony Blair invited the former leader Paddy Ashdown to join his Cabinet in 1997.

He said: "I do not see how that arrangement could have been sustained for very long. Certainly not if the Labour party and the Prime Minister had embarked on the drift to the right which I think has characterised certainly his political attitudes in his second term in office. That was a false dawn."

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