LIBERAL Democrat grandee Paddy Ashdown described his party’s candidate for Mid Dorset and North Poole as ‘a little atom bomb’ during a visit to the area today. 

Lord Ashdown, Lib Dem’s leader between 1988 and 1999, was in Wimborne to campaign for parliamentary candidate Vikki Slade, who is replacing the retired Annette Brooke.

The constituency is being hotly contested, with Mrs Brooke winning with a majority over the Conservatives of just 269 in 2010 – and both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have already visited since election campaigning began.

Lord Ashdown told the Daily Echo his party can be credited with ‘dragging the country out of recession after Labour trashed the economy’ – and thinks Mrs Slade can continue Mrs Brooke’s ‘extraordinary’ work.

“She is a little atom bomb,” he said.

“I mean Annette Brooke is a pretty fabulous MP, extraordinary MP, full of fire and vim and full of determination to protect the people of this area.

“If there is a worthy successor I know anywhere in our party it is Vikki. She is just extraordinary. She has got tremendous courage and tremendous, absolute laser-like focus on the one thing that matters to her, which is the best for the area and the people.”

When challenged by the Echo that his party’s decision to ditch its policy to make university education free and instead raised annual fees to £9,000 may make campaigning more difficult for their new candidate, he replied: “Do you want to judge us by one wrong policy, in my view, taken before the last election, or five years solid government with the Conservatives in partnership, putting the nation first and dragging this country out of the worst economic recession of our times?"

He added: “It’s tough to do difficult things for a country that’s in the middle of a recession, it’s tough to say we have to cut because we have to balance the books, but we have done it and I think the party is very proud of it. I know that I am.”

He said the Tories have ‘veered to the right’ and will ‘dump the deficit reduction back on the poor’, before identifying his party’s former coalition partner’s plans to cut inheritance tax as unfair.

“The Tories decided that they would take estates of a million or more out of inheritance tax - their preference is always, always, always in favour of the rich,” he added.

“You begin to see the Tories reveal themselves again as the nasty party."