Barnstorming Baroness Warns of the Perils of a Sell-Out to Labour

Article excerpt

Shirley Williams proved herself the perennial conference darling once again yesterday when she brought Liberal Democrats to their feet with a powerful warning that their policies must not be swapped for seats in a Labour cabinet.

Baroness Williams, one of the "Gang of Four" who founded the Social Democrats, took to the platform to rally the troops before Paddy Ashdown made an unscheduled closing speech promising not to sell out to Labour. But the party leader did keep his options open on the possibility of a partnership with Tony Blair.

Lady Williams said that she recognised the unease of many Liberal Democrats about Labour. "But it is up to us," she told them. "The Liberal Democrats must not be diverted from their key policy objectives. We must not exchange them for a handful of government posts. "It is our responsibility to hold any new government to them, to support it in achieving them, to remonstrate or even withdraw our support if it fails to attempt them." The former Labour cabinet minister said her old party was a "necessary part" of the change Liberal Democrats wanted to bring about in the way Britain was governed. Without change they could not achieve their objectives of a high standard of education, job creation, constitutional reform and an end to "petulant, wrecking tactics" towards the European Union. The constitutional package of voting reform, freedom of information, human rights and devolution would require the efforts of "a great reforming administration" over at least two Parliaments, Lady Williams added. But the passage that most pleased delegates on the final day of the conference was her warning against a sell-out to Labour - the issue which has dominated this week's events following a suggestion by Alex Carlile, the leader of the Welsh party, that Mr Ashdown might be offered seats in a Tony Blair cabinet. …