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Monday, 10 September, 2001, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Ashdown: Blair lacks confidence
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon
Ashdown says Blair could have achieved more
Tony Blair could lose out on the chance for change because he lacks confidence and cannot stand not being liked, according to Paddy Ashdown.

The criticism comes as the former Liberal Democrat leader's second volume of diaries are published, including accounts of his secret meetings with Mr Blair.

In the diaries, which are being serialised in the Times, he says the prime minister was "immensely likeable" and "very honest" but too often says what he thinks people want to hear.

Lord Ashdown argues Mr Blair lacks the "firm set of interlocking political beliefs" which would anchor his government in time of storm.

'Smarmy git'

In an interview with the newspaper, Mr Ashdown says he had told the Labour leader most people in Britain thought he was a "smarmy git".

"People say: 'That smile! It drives me round the bend.' It drives away those who instinctively want to be his supporters.

"The thing about Blair is that people think he's phoney, but if you meet him and you know him reasonably well, he is absolutely not."

Tony Blair
Blair is thought to have been irritated by the first Ashdown diaries
He continued: "It's one of the paradoxes that here is a man who has all the gifts at a higher level than most of us in politics, who nevertheless seems to depend, almost as a security blanket, on having these people around him who give him very poor advice about how to do these things."

Lord Ashdown says he is annoyed by the way that Mr Blair has been gifted two huge majorities and poor opponents but has done "very, very little" with them.

Lacking in confidence

"The answer is that is he doesn't believe in himself. I don't know why he doesn't. He lacks confidence.

"There have been instances of courage, but now he's got to this position, it's almost as though he can't bear the idea of not being liked."

And the former Lib Dem leader issues a stark warning to Mr Blair.

"If he does not fulfil the potential and opportunity he clearly still has in the next two or three years, history will deal with him very, very hard."

Lord Ashdown argues Mr Blair's lack of a firm political creed "gives the impression that he slithers around all over the place".

Referring to Britain's possible entry to the single currency, he remarks: "I think it's because he is waiting for what he regards as the right moment.

"The question is, when the right moment comes, will he recognise it."

The comments are likely to anger Mr Blair, who is thought to have been annoyed that Lord Ashdown unveiled the details of private conversations between the two in the first volume of the diaries.

Clarke threat

With the new Conservative leader due to be named on Wednesday, Lord Ashdown argues Ken Clarke could be a threat to Mr Blair if he tops the poll ahead of Iain Duncan Smith.

"If Clarke is leader of the Tory party, I think he can beat Blair because I think this Government is going to become very unpopular very quickly.

"But if the Conservatives are mad enough to elect Iain Duncan whatever-his-name-is, instead of the crumpled and familiar figure of Kenneth Clarke - then they will go down to heavy defeat next time."

See also:

04 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Ashdown candidate for UN Bosnia job
13 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Ashdown's 'left-wing' warning
23 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Blair wanted coalition says Ashdown
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