By Ray Fleming

THE Liberal Democrats will probably have taken heart from a letter in The Times yesterday from three very senior former national security people -- soldier Lord Guthrie, civil servant Sir Richard Dearlove and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism officer Peter Clarke -- who methodically took apart the Lib Dem manifesto in order to demonstrate that to put the party in power would threaten “the safety and wellbeing of the United Kingdom”.

I have commented here before that the Lib Dem's manifesto reads more like the work of a think tank floating a few interesting ideas than a serious political commitment. But the fact that these three establishment figures have taken it so seriously at this late stage may suggest that its inspiration came from a quarter concerned over the party's unexpected electability. Lord Guthrie, former Chief of Defence Staff, is no stranger to the Times's correspondence pages and his interventions are usually in support of Conservative policy. The BBC's Today programme invited former Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown -- who knows a bit about national security -- to comment on the letter. His inclination was to dismiss it out of hand but he did point out that the civil servant who signed the letter, Sir Richard Dearlove, former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, is none other than the man who advised Tony Blair that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.