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Charles Kennedy MP, Lib Dem leader
Launches his party's draft manifesto
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Charles Kennedy MP, Lib Dem leader
"The key issue here is freedom"
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The BBC's Carole Walker
"Kennedy set out the princibles on which his party will fight the next election"
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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Lib Dems focus attack on poverty
classroom
Basic tax could rise by 1% to pay for education reform
The Liberal Democrats fully entered pre-election mode on Wednesday with the release of a mini-manifesto, with a campaign against poverty forming its centrepiece.


I want to see social justice in Britain

Charles Kennedy
Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy launched the document, entitled Freedom in a Liberal Society, which puts the case for higher taxes on the better-off to help fund increases in pensions and improved public services.

Mr Kennedy's ideas came under attack from both Labour and the Conservatives.

He acknowledged that his party's plans would see an 8bn increase in the overall tax burden, but said it was a price he believed people were willing to pay.

He said: "I want to see social justice in Britain."

"That means a massive attack on poverty, both by helping those who are most in need, such as pensioners and disabled people, and by providing real equality of opportunity through education, health and housing programmes which help the disadvantaged to escape from poverty."

Better state pensions

The party's key pledges would see a 50% tax rate on incomes above 100,000-a-year.


We have no interest or ambition to fight this election by being seen as being to the left of Labour

Charles Kennedy
Money raised would then finance a 5 a week increase in the basic state pension, while the over-75s would receive an extra 10 and the over-80s a 15 a week boost.

Other policies targeted at helping the worst off include abolishing the 10p rate of income tax.

Changing the tax bracket

Mr Kennedy said this would see nearly 1.5m people lifted out of paying tax altogether, while he acknowledged his proposals would see those whose earnings were above the 30,000 mark pay slightly more.

Asked how this placed the Lib Dems politically in relation to Labour, Mr Kennedy said: "We have no interest or ambition to fight this election by being seen as being to the left of Labour."

Spelling out the differences between the Lib Dems and the government, Mr Kennedy said his party was more progressive, more pro-European and more concerned about the environment.

Mr Kennedy, who heads the 47-strong group of Lib Dem Westminster MPs, acknowledged that it was not credible to suggest his party would form the next government on its own after the next election, which is likely in May 2001.

Tories 'a disaster'

Despite striving to make clear his differences from Labour, the Lib Dem leader also said a Tory government would be an "utter disaster" - the country would be "utterly ungovernable, divided from Europe and divided socially".

He mocked Conservative pledges to cut taxes and match Labour spending on the health service as "fantasy figures".

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy
Kennedy: Freedom from poverty a key pledge
Other pledges set out in the Lib Dem programme, which Mr Kennedy said was an attempt to "update and refresh our philosophy" and not a policy "checklist", included commitments to increase the numbers of police, doctors and nurses.

He hoped to boost the numbers of doctors by 5,000, nurses by 20,000 and police by 6,000 above the numbers pledged by Labour .

Mr Kennedy also promised to bring down the average primary school class size to 25 pupils, and abolish university tuition fees.

He reiterated the Lib Dem commitment to a 3bn a year additional investment in education, which would be funded either by growth in the economy or an increase of 1p in the basic rate of income tax.

'Sums don't add up'

The Lib Dems calculate that the overall impact of their taxation changes would mean gains for everyone earning less than 21,105, and modest penalties for those above that level.

They estimate, for example, that anyone earning 15,000 annually year would gain 1.17 a week, while someone on 35,000 would lose 2.25.

Labour has criticised the plans. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Smith said: "The Liberal Democrat sums, like the Tories', just don't add up."

And the Tories accused Mr Kennedy of peddling lunacy.

Tim Collins, senior Tory vice-chairman, said: "All the Liberal Democrats have told us in their pre-manifesto document is that they are determined to increase taxes and scrap the pound."

He added: "The mainstream majority in Britain will see straight through these ridiculous proposals. With Charles Kennedy continuing to peddle this kind of lunacy, it's clear that a Lib Dem vote is a wasted vote."

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dem pre-manifesto at a glance
06 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Kennedy pledges progressive policies
03 Sep 00 | UK Politics
No 'bogus' tax cuts: Lib Dems
09 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Charles Kennedy: A slow-burn start
10 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Kennedy: 'Campaign against Tories'
19 May 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dems hold election summit
15 May 00 | UK Politics
Kennedy to woo anti-Tory vote
05 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Tories raise election heat
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