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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Lib Dems unveil draft manifesto
Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy insists that his party will remain independent
The Liberal Democrats have published a "prototype" manifesto as they intensify preparations for the next election.

"Freedom, fairness and trust" is the mantra for the document, which details the main Liberal Democrat policies.

These include free personal care for the elderly, scrapping tuition fees, axing the council tax and boosting state pensions by 25 for over-75s.

Party leader Charles Kennedy said the policy ideas were all "tried and tested" and already working for them.

Launching the draft manifesto he said: "This is an important document setting out the direction of Liberal Democrat thinking leading up to the General Election.

KEY POLICIES
Scrapping university tuition fees
25 more a week for pensioners over 75
Replacing council tax with local income tax
Free off-peak transport for all pensioners and disabled people
Boost investment in children's early years
10,000 more police on the streets
Free doctors and nurses from 'Whitehall meddling'

"It gives a clear insight into the policies we believe would improve the lives of everyone in Britain today."

Explaining the title of the draft manifesto, Mr Kennedy said: "Freedom is about giving people the opportunity to make choices for themselves. Fairness is about equal access - a decent health service, a quality education.

"And trust is about telling the truth when it counts and trusting people to make decisions."

The only new proposal in the document is the promise of free off-peak local transport for all pensioners and disabled people.

But it is designed to show the Lib Dems have plans ready and properly costed months before a likely poll date.

Green message

The Lib Dems say it is unusual for political parties to release their full policies so far ahead of the election, which is widely expected next spring.

The draft manifesto will be debated at next week's party conference, but Lib Dem officials say months of work have gone into the document and it is unlikely to change before the election.

The party is also trying to highlight its green credentials, with environmentally-friendly measures stressed throughout the document.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy denied the manifesto was a "grab-a-granny" plan.

But he told BBC Breakfast: "If you look at the demography of this country, an increasing proportion of people are living longer and more active lives.

"We have got to have policies on pensions and on third age issues generally."

Mr Kennedy also dismissed suggestions that the party was trying to appeal to everybody by "facing both directions".

'Camouflage'

Party chairman Matthew Taylor, who drew up the document, said the Lib Dems had set out a costed and popular agenda while the Tories squabbled over "outlandish schemes".

The party says the Iraq war is one of the ways the government and Tony Blair especially have lost trust.

Both Labour and the Tories have accused the Lib Dems of trying to be all things to all people, spreading different messages in different areas.

Labour's Chief Secretary to the Treasury Paul Boateng said the Lib Dems' figures did not add up.

"Today's 'prototype' manifesto adds further costs to the 100 separate spending commitments the Liberal Democrats have made over the last two years including commitments on increasing pensions, allocating 2 billion extra for railways, extra police, on increasing benefits, on reducing Council tax bills and even bee keeping," he said.

"Until they tell us where the money is coming from to pay for their endless of list of commitments no one will take seriously any pledge they make."

Conservative Chairman Liam Fox said: "This is a poor attempt to camouflage their true colours. The Lib Dems would undermine the fight against drugs, they would sell Britain's interests down the river, cave in to the European constitution and raise tax.

"Once again, the Lib Dems prove they are the masters of deception."


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