BY any standard, the Liberal Democrats' victory at the Brent East by-election was a notable political achievement.

For Ian Duncan Smith to describe the success as a "strategic blunder" smacks of a Conservative leader clutching at straws to salvage some credibility from a disastrous performance by his own party.

Mr Duncan Smith is perhaps correct in tracing a shift leftwards by the Liberal Democrats.

But the truth is that in the battle to win over votes from previous Labour supporters, there is more room for manoeuvre on the left than in the centre.

In voicing opposition to the Iraq war, university tuition fees and nursing care fees, the Liberal Democrats are tapping into the thoughts and concerns of a sizeable chunk of the electorate.

In continuing to wage campaigns against Europe and the single currency, the Conservatives are tapping into their core support, but failing to reach out to the increasing number of disaffected Labour supporters.

The Liberal Democrats have demonstrated their ability to fill the vacuum left behind by Labour's attempts to bolster support in Middle England. We fail to see the blunder in such a course of action.

But we can see the strategic blunder of a Conservative leader, unwilling or unable to learn lessons from the past to construct a sufficiently viable alternative to Labour in time for the next General Election.

Doubly great

THE Great North Run once again lived up to its fully deserved reputation as one of the world's finest mass participation sporting events.

Now into its third decade, the event goes from strength to strength. Bathed in sunshine, a record entry of 47,000 raised several millions of pounds for charity.

And to crown a perfect day, Paula Radcliffe smashed the half marathon world record.

Just like the Great North Run is a wonderful advertisement for our region, Paula Radcliffe is a wonderful advertisement for British sport.

Long may they continue to thrive.