Lib Dems are in strong position, says iconic politician

ALMOST 30 years ago the so-called gang of four decided to break away from the Labour Party and set up the Social Democrats which through later merging and morphing became today s Liberal Democrats. Three decades on, the third party in our t

Katie Davies

ALMOST 30 years ago the so-called "gang of four" decided to break away from the Labour Party and set up the Social Democrats which through later merging and morphing became today's Liberal Democrats.

Three decades on, the third party in our two party electoral system looks no closer to finding power outside of a coalition.

But in the face of often repeated claims that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a wasted one, a member of that founding group, who later became leader of the party in the Lords, says their chances have never been stronger.

Shirley Williams, 79, an iconic figure in British politics who has served 46 years - first in the Commons and now as a life peer in the Lords - says that electoral math, or rather its impact at the ballot box, is starting to break down.

And in a week where electoral reform, albeit on a limited scale, has been announced by the Prime Minster, she says the electorate has to start to look at all three primary colours on the political spectrum.

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"What is striking in the UK is whenever you get a Liberal Democrat in some unexpected part of the country other parts of that area follow," says the Baroness of Crosby.

"If we get a break through we strongly cancel that myth that the Lib Dems can't win. The problem lessens every time.

"AV [Alternative Vote - the voting system outlined as Labour policy this week which sees voters number the candidates by preference at an election] is not really a proportional representation system but is still a step in the right direction."

Ms Williams will be heading locally this month when she discusses her career at the London Jewish Cultural Centre in Golders Green.

She is buoyed by the direction taken by Nick Clegg and those party leaders before him since she made the jump to the SDP under the aim of "reconciling the nation".

"I think everything changes but generally speaking the party has been very true to the kind of things the four of us originally had in mind for it," she says.

"The party is still strongly in favour of decentralisation - lessening government control especially in the fields of education and health. We are very strong in local government.

"Secondly, I am very pleased with the way in which we have pushed for greater freedoms from taxation and the proposals to take those earning less than �10,000 out of taxation altogether.

"I am strongly in favour of the 50 per cent capital gains tax. Vince Cable is one of the fiercest financial minds and is completely right to say the fact we tax capital gains less than income is absurd.

"I am pleased at the way we are talking about social housing and our record is very strong on civil liberties."

Though this election race more than ever seems obsessed with the battle between Britain's two political titans, the increasingly likely outcome of a hung parliament is raising the profile of the Liberal Democrats.

"It is looking like quite a strong possibility," the Baroness continues.

"We've been quite clear that we will support the party with the largest number of seats but we won't join a coalition. We have said we will look at their legislation and support or not support it. But we wont play ducks and drakes with the system either."

And for those who are considering voting tactically at the election and avoiding the Liberal Democrats eventhough they prefer their candidate, the Baroness' words are simple: "If you don't vote Liberal Democrat you won't get a Liberal Democrat."

Shirley Williams will appear at the centre on North End Road at 8pm on February 25.

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