Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Lib Dems becoming 'lazy' - Ashdown
Paddy Ashdown praised his successor Charles Kennedy
Former leader Paddy Ashdown has warned the Liberal Democrats to avoid becoming lazy and opting for easy choices.
His aides described the address as a "gentle reminder" - but they admitted it was far stronger than the emotional farewell many had been expecting.
But on policy he had harsh words for the party he has led for 11 years and is credited with having turned around.
"In some areas we are, I fear, running the risk of becoming rather lazy and complacent in our thinking," he said.
"And that would mean making ourselves irrelevant for a generation."
The former leader told the conference: "We have become far too staid, far too conservative - yes, conservative - in our thinking about public services.
"As liberals, our place is to be on the side of the citizen, not the state - of the consumer, not the producer."
Challenge posed by Internet
He warned the party not to allow itself to wallow in introspection as it worked out how to re-position itself under its new boss.
"They are not.
"We live at a time when the questions before us are, quite literally, of global proportions."
Although the Lib Dems are the only UK political party committed to the European single currency, Mr Ashdown urged delegates to think yet more about future integration.
"Power is accumulating, often with frightening speed, in the hands of the global players - the commodity brokers, the Internet operators, the satellite broadcasters, the multinational traders - all operating unfettered and unlimited by the structures of any government or the constraints of any ideology, or the limits of any creed or culture."
"Yet the deputy governor of the Bank of England, speaking at a conference of central bankers three weeks ago, said that the growth of Internet trading risks making central banks completely irrelevant.
"And with them, incidentally, the capacity for exchequers to collect taxes for public expenditure - and so for governments to govern in the traditional modern sense.
Mr Ashdown ended his speech with the inevitable tribute to his colleagues. But even at this point he had some criticisms.
"To have had the privilege to lead you has been the greatest thing I have ever done - or ever will do.
"You have been a great party to lead - which is not the same thing, incidentally, as an easy party to lead."
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