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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Lib Dems launch election campaign
Sir Menzies Campbell
The Liberal Democrats will be offering "fresh choices" to voters with pledges to cut crime and scrap the council tax, Sir Menzies Campbell says.

Local elections are set for Thursday, 4 May - with 4,360 council seats up for grabs across England.

The polls will mark the first national test for the party's new leader.

He says Lib Dems are ready to challenge Labour in the cities, and "fight the Conservatives" despite "their attempts to reinvent themselves".

'Revitalised' Tories

At the launch of the Lib Dem local election campaign, Sir Menzies predicted his party "will be winning more votes, more councillors and control of more councils" than it did in 2002, when many of these seats were last contested.

He said the party's record in local government was "vital to our success nationally", adding that "people can see that voting Liberal Democrat makes a difference to their lives".

We're fighting the Conservatives in the shires and suburbs, and gaining ground in spite of their attempts to reinvent themselves
Sir Menzies Campbell

"You can be assured that wherever you are the Liberal Democrats will be offering fresh choices and new directions," he said.

"Putting a premium on protecting and improving the environment, as you might expect, but also improving community safety, tackling crime and clamping down on anti-social behaviour.

"Clearing up problems in some of our most deprived and neglected areas. Areas that were once solid Labour for generations but have got fed up of too much talk and not enough delivery

"We're challenging Labour in the big cities - where the Conservatives have long since disappeared from view.

"We're fighting the Conservatives in the shires and suburbs, and gaining ground in spite of their attempts to reinvent themselves."

Local taxation

Sir Menzies says his party has done particularly well in recent local elections by winning support from disillusioned Conservatives and voters opposed to the war in Iraq.

However, he accepts that "things have changed" due to "a revitalised Conservative party" and the fact that Iraq is "less salient as an electoral issue".

The Lib Dems will be "placing a premium on protecting and improving the environment", he said.

They also plan to continue pressing for the abolition of the council tax, with average bills reaching more than 1,200, without last year's government offer of a 200 rebate for pensioner households, he said.

Instead, the Lib Dems want to see a local taxation system based on the ability to pay.

But Labour Party chairman Ian McCartney attacked the Lib Dem record on crime saying they had voted against a series of government measures aimed at tackling public disorder.

"The Lib Dems voted against dispersal orders which gave local councils and police the powers to break up teen gangs," he said.

"Despite what they say locally, the Lib Dems would deprive police and local authorities the powers they need to take on the vandals and bullies. They would put the rights of the criminal ahead of the victim and undo Labour's key measures to tackle anti-social behaviour," he added.

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