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banner Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Ashdown: 'Make politicians' lives difficult'
"Making life difficult for politicians is what this party is all about", Paddy Ashdown told a conference fringe meeting.

Sharing a platform with Diana Lamplugh, mother of murdered estate agent Susie Lamplugh, Sir Paddy said that the world was entering "a period of profound challenge and change" as the internet provided access to information that would mean politicians were held to greater account by the public.

Sir Paddy made the point while lending his support to a Camelot-sponsored fringe meeting entitled "Power at Your Fingertips: The potential of e-citizenship".

The problem governments now face is not growing voter apathy, he said, but people protesting in a way that they do not expect or want, as happened in the recent fuel crisis.

"Politicians offer two and a half choices every five years," said Sir Paddy, referring to his own party's place in the polls, and that did not allow people enough input into events that affected them directly.

Pausing to consider a parallel for the arrival of the internet, a historically-minded Sir Paddy likened it to the invention of the printing press.

Printing gave ordinary people access to information that governments wanted to keep hidden. The monk Bede had once walked from Durham to the Vatican in Rome to read one book, Sir Paddy said.

In the same way, people wanting to make changes to their community often found themselves having to go to great lengths to get information.

His views were supported by Diana Lamplugh, whose campaign to have the investigation into her daughter's murder brought her into conflict with Scotland Yard.

People should not be afraid of being seen as irritating, she said - and that meant telling governments and institutions things that they did not want to hear.

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