Letter: Where Labour and the Lib Dems divide

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Sir: Your question about the differences between Liberal Democrats and Labour ('Lib Dems need a change of clothes', 10 June) deserves an answer.

You do not allow enough for the fact that because government legislative programmes set the agenda, they create a spurious appearance of unity between opposition parties. When, as now, the Government is extreme to the point of eccentricity, it creates the possibility of a programme to repair the damage which could enjoy the support of Liberal Democrats, Labour and, in private, most one-nation Conservatives. Success, of course, would destroy the unity of any such combination and then underlying differences would re-emerge.

We Liberal Democrats believe the worst problem in British politics is the strength of an uncontrolled executive; Labour still

believes in 'strong government', provided that it can have the pleasure of inflicting it. Labour still believes that it is 'a working-class movement'; we believe that reducing politics to a zero-sum game, in which every gain for one class is an equal and opposite loss for another, leaves out everything that makes politics interesting. Labour is still suffering from the long hangover of socialism. It still uses words such as 'landlord' and 'profit' as if they were oaths. Any debate on housing will show that this inhibits clear thought about practical solutions.

On anything to do with public spending, Labour displays a schizophrenic combination of natural rights talk of entitlement and caution on public spending worthy of Philip Snowdon (who as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Ramsay MacDonald cut unemployment benefit in order to revive the economy). We hope to convince the voters that there is no such thing as a free tax cut and then to ask them to make choices in their own interest.

Yours faithfully,

RUSSELL

House of Lords

London, SW1

10 June

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