Thursday, 7 June 2007

*Lib Dems leaflet rift set to deepen

Senior Lib Dems in Norwich appeared to be on a collision course last night over a decision to apologise to the Greens over 'misleading' election leaflets.

Party leader Hereward Cooke made a fulsome apology to the Greens councillors during meeting on Tuesday as he sought their support for his nomination to become chairman of the council's new audit committee.

Mr Cooke said the leaflets, circulated by his party in the Nelson and Mancroft wards shortly before the May 3 poll, were an embarrassment and he had no idea what had been written.

The leaflets suggested a Labour/Green pact was running City Hall and senior managers were all Labour appointments, while the Lib Dems had not been responsible for the financial mess which saw the councils' budget slip nearly £2m into the red.

"I do apologise for that piece of literature which appeared during the election campaign," Mr Cooke said. "It should not have been put out in our name."

Mr Cooke said he was ashamed at what had happened and he promised there would be greater co-ordination over what is put out.

"We don't have the controls in place to vet in advance what is written. As a result of my making an apology I was elected as chairman of the audit committee.

"I am on the political wing of the Liberal Democrats, not the campaign wing. In the future the two will work much more closely together so that these sorts of things will not be repeated," he added.

But the sorry appears to be the hardest word for fellow frontbencher Judith Lubbock, the party's election agent who wrote the leaflets, who felt her leader had been cynically put on the spot by the Greens.

"It was blackmail and they are being very manipulative," she said. "The buck stops with me, and I don't apologise. We can back up what's been put in the literature."

Mrs Lubbock said Mr Cooke gave no warning in the group's pre-meeting that he was going to apologise.

"If he had, I would have said 'hang on a minute what are you apologising for'," she added.

"I do not want to undermine his position," she said. "Hereward, bless him, just thinks you can draw a line under these things. I was responsible for those leaflets and I certainly stand by them. We certainly won't be having any review of our literature."

The public discord is sure to raise questions about unity within the Lib Dems and the credibility of Mr Cooke's attempt to draw a line under the issue.

Previously the Lib Dems were squeezed out of the chairmanship of the scrutiny committee by a combination of Labour and Green votes because of simmering anger about the leaflets.

But the Greens, who supported Mr Cooke for the audit job after seeking assurances that he was trustworthy, accepted the apology.

Adrian Ramsay, Green group convener, said: "It is a bad thing for democracy when a party totally misleads voters.

"Hereward Cooke has now put the record straight and apologised and I am grateful for that. I hope the LibDems will learn from this," he said.

The Lib Dems are specialists in issuing misleading literature, so isn't it nice to see them brought to book for once!

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