The Conservatives will not be easily beaten at the next election, Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, said yesterday as he warned against pledges to unpick everything the Tories had done in the last 15 years.
Blaming everything that had gone wrong on the Conservatives was neither "fair, accurate or wise," he said in last night's Hugh Gaitskell Memorial Lecture in Nottingham.
The democratisation of trade unions and liberalisation of the markets were two examples of things they had done and which should not be undone, he said.
The "positive" agenda on which to beat the Tories had to include more direct participation in politics by the electorate - such as the extended use of referendums at local level to give people control over the future shape of their communities.
"'There is also a new agenda to be developed in those two bastions of the old left - public ownership and public services.
"The right response to the Conservative revolution in public services is not to seek to unthinkingly reverse all reforms, but to democratise new institutions, make decentralised public services accountable to the communities and customers they serve, andcreate light-touch, locally accountable frameworks for strategic planning," he said.
Mr Ashdown concedes privately that his own party has yet to work out final positions on key policies, such as taxation, but insists that the Liberal Democrats are ahead of Labour in their attitudes towards the environment and Tory reforms such as education.
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