Sir: In your report (23 November) of "unrest" about the idea of a Liberal Democrat coalition with Labour, you quoted one source as saying: "Mr Ashdown will tell the dissidents that the party endorsed his strategy ... at its party conference in 1995 ... We understand their concern but they are a small minority of people who are isolated."
I have little knowledge of Liberal Democrat feeling other than in the North-west region, of which I have the honour to be president, but in this region, opposition to a formal coalition with Labour is very strong indeed.
There is deep concern about joint working parties, but most of us are prepared to tolerate that provided it in no way compromises our independence as a party, even on those issues being discussed - but anything more than that, such as cabinet seats and propping up a Labour government, would be bitterly resented. It would be a gross betrayal of our party and its independence, and any Liberal Democrat MP or peer taking such a seat would be betraying his or her heritage.
Such a move would split our party, with scores and scores of our members, of whom I would be but one, failing to renew their membership. It would do irreparable damage.
That is why so many of my friends believe we should renounce that step now. If we do not, it will cost us parliamentary seats in the 1997 election as similar suggestions did in 1992.
I will always refuse to name names, but I know of at least four of our MPs opposed to a formal coalition, I know of at least five of our peers, and many of our prospective parliamentary candidates.
The only possible excuse would be a guarantee of proportional representation (not the alternative vote) in the first 12-month session - and that's like our chance of winning the Lottery.
Talking is acceptable. Coalition is suicide, merely to satisfy three or four egos, and we are most definitely not a "small minority".
Sir CYRIL SMITH
The writer was Liberal Democrat MP for Rochdale until 1992Reuse content