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Monday, May 17, 1999 Published at 19:30 GMT 20:30 UK

UK Politics

Ashdown launches last campaign

Paddy Ashdown is calling for an early referendum on the euro

The Liberal Democrats have become the first of the main parties to launch their European election manifesto.

The BBC's Carolyn Quinn: "The Liberal Democrats now face the tast of finding a way to get the public to vote for them"
Setting out his last election platform as party leader, Paddy Ashdown emphasised the Lib Dems' strong pro-European credentials but acknowledged there was some need to reform the EU.

Mr Ashdown claimed the Lib Dems were the only party offering any leadership on euro and called for an early referendum on joining the single currency.

He said his party stood apart from both the Tories and Labour on the euro.

The BBC's Guto Harri looks at the chances of the Liberal Democrats
"We have a government sitting on the fence and a Conservative Party that is saying, 'Please stop the world, we want to get off'," he said.

As well as attacking Labour over what Mr Ashdown said was a lack of leadership on the euro, he also took the government to task on health and education saying: "Doing a little bit better than the Tories on health and education is simply not good enough."

'Fairer' voting system

[ image: The Lib Dems are calling for a stronger European Parliament]
The Lib Dems are calling for a stronger European Parliament
This year's European elections are the first to be conducted under the new system of proportional representation.

Mr Ashdown said 10 June would therefore be an "historic day for Britain's democracy".

"For the first time ever, a UK-wide election will be held under a fair voting system."

The Liberal Democrats also said they are fielding the highest number of female candidates of any of the main parties.

Carolyn Quinn reports on the Liberal Democrats' new manifesto
The party's full platform includes calls for completion of the European single market; a the widening of the European Union to include countries in central and eastern Europe; work with EU partners to reduce pollution and to protect the environment; and a crackdown on international crime.

The Lib Dems also want a written European constitution and a stronger European Parliament with greater powers of scrutiny over the Commission.

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