Paddy Ashdown says Lib Dems need more 'mad, silly, and mildly embarrassing' ideas

Written by James Millar on 11 September 2017 in Diary

Former leader warms up for this weekend's annual conference with a blast at his party

Former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown has penned a biting criticism of his party as Vince Cable prepares for his first conference in charge this weekend.

He claimed the party was failing to come up with new or 'dangerous' policy ideas and warned that British politics is being 'disfigured' by Lib Dem weakness. 

Ashdown, who now sits in the House of Lords, preceded his article on the Lib Dem Voice website with a warning that he was grumpy and knew no other approach than "fix bayonets and charge" due to his army background. He warned that the party faces 'existential' threats and suggested it had failed because while it increased its number of MPs it had lost votes at the last election despite an "empty, voiceless, vacant and uncontested" space at the centre of politics.

He wrote: "Not in my lifetime have their been conditions more favourable for a Lib Dem advance in a general election. But we went backwards."  

Ashdown, who won 46 seats for the Lib Dems in 1997, claimed politics is being 'disfigured' by Labour and Conservatives vacating the centre ground. But he rejected any notion of a progressive alliance, despite taking part in lengthy conversations with Labour during the 1990s about working together. The two parties even talked of forming a coalition.

He wrote: "These so-called 'progressive alliances' are almost always anti-Tory and always end up denying voter choice. Political partnerships work best when they are for something better, rather than against something worse. Any attempt to create a new framework for our politics should begin with widening the space in which we can make common cause with people who share our values, rather than harping on about the things that separate us."

He called on his party to launch a series of studies into areas ripe for cross party co-operation including growing the green economy, the constitution and the expansion of robotics and artificial intelligence. 

"We are doing very little new thinking and producing very few new ideas," he claimed. He added: "The party I joined was a ferment of debate and new thinking. Some of our ideas were mad, others were silly and a few were mildly embarrassing." However he challenged his fellow party members, "Can you name one big, dangerous idea we Lib Dems have produced since 2015?" 

However he did endorse new leader Vince Cable who will address the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth next week for the first time as leader. Ashdown said: "We have a multi talented leader who deserves our whole-hearted support." 

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