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Friday, January 15, 1999 Published at 09:40 GMT

UK Politics

Blair 'lacks authority for Lib-Lab ties'

Labour and the Lib Dems will now co-operate more on defence policy

The prime minister's co-operation with the Liberal Democrats did not have party authority and would only work with "willing troops", a Labour backbencher has warned.

Gordon Prentice: "Absolutely no party authority"
Gordon Prentice, MP for Pendle, has called on Tony Blair to state if he was moving towards a coalition government.

His comments follow Thursday's announcement that Labour and the Lib Dems would extend their co-operation on constitutional issues to cover common European and security policy.

Mr Prentice denied his sentiments were out of touch, saying: "The fact is we're being led by on this issue the prime minister.

[ image: Gordon Prentice:
Gordon Prentice: "I'm not sure where it will lead"
"His job is to lead but he has to have willing troops and the fact of the matter is that if the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party were so close together, the Liberal Democrats would be members of the Labour Party and not a separate political party putting up candidates against us in elections which are only a few months away."

The Lib Dems had a completely separate agenda to Labour, said Mr Prentice, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The prime minister should declare if he did have an agenda to realign UK politics and move into a coalition with the Lib Dems, Mr Prentice said.

Gordon Prentice: "I don't see the point of it"
"I don't see the point of it and I'm not sure where it will lead," he said.

"We have an enormous Parliamentary Labour Party, we have a majority of 179. If Tony wants to speak to Menzies Campbell or Paddy Ashdown he can have a chat with them over a cup of tea in the tearoom.

"We don't need to co-opt the Liberal Democrats into the machinery of the state, so that people like Menzies Campbell have access to classified material which is denied to people like me - after all I'm only a government backbencher."

But Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, ruled out any prospect of coalition with the government.

Menzies Campbell: "No question of coalition"
He said the two party's were working together to promote the European defence policy contained in the Amsterdam treaty.

This is a "single and discreet issue", he told the Today programme.

Mr Campbell said: "It seems to me that if both parties can agree on something that is so substantially in the interests of the people of the United Kingdom, it makes no sense not to take these matters forward in the way we have agreed."

The co-operation would lead to a high quality of decisions, he added.

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