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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Kennedy pledges progressive policies
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy: Echoes of Old Labour
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has unveiled his draft election manifesto with a pledge to tackle poverty - funded by big increases in taxation.


Many heard a loud echo of Old Labour in the manifesto commitments - particularly those on taxation

He dismissed both Labour and Tory pledges to continue cutting taxes as "bogus".

And he insisted that, only by increasing taxes could pensioners, the poor and the sick get the help they deserve.

"As the country does better, we shall guarantee that the poor do best," he said.

He also insisted that he was not turning the Lib Dems into an Old Labour-style tax and spend party.

And he again insisted that he was not attempting to move his party to the left of New Labour.

Election bar

But many heard a loud echo of Old Labour in the manifesto commitments - particularly those on taxation.

The 10p income tax band would be abolished to help the worst off and those earning over 100,000 a year would be squeezed.


He disarmingly confessed he did not expect his party to win the next election outright but would only pledge to "cajole and influence" wherever he could

And Mr Kennedy confirmed that taxes would generally have to rise to fund his ambitious anti-poverty programme, with even those on 35,000 a year paying around 2.25 a week more.

It is not that long ago that these were exactly the sort of demands coming from some Labour politicians and which others saw as one of the biggest bars to it ever getting elected.

And, of course, New Labour under Tony Blair is absolutely determined to be seen as a tax cutting government - despite the fact that the overall tax burden increased over the first years of his administration.

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, have opposed cuts in the basic rate of income tax and argued for increases to pay for improvements to public services - most notably the party's pledge to increase tax by 1p to boost education.

Attract voters

But Mr Kennedy has now taken that further, promising to introduce a new top tax rate of 50p for the most well off.

He has clearly calculated that voters are ready to pay more in tax to fund public spending.

And there is some evidence that the recent widespread disillusionment with New Labour was partly based on people's disappointment that it had not used their taxes to boost public services.

Chancellor Gordon Brown tackled that head-on with his giveaway spending plans which he hopes will end that feeling and which could whip the rug from under Mr Kennedy.

The Lib Dem leader knows that, if he is to increase his numbers in the Commons at the next election, he has to attract voters from all parts of the political spectrum.

But he is most interested in appealing to those disillusioned Labour supporters who may want to punish Tony Blair at the next election but could never vote Tory.

And his manifesto is full of the sort of "progressive" policies he believes will attract both them and other, uncommitted voters.

What he was careful not to do was get into detail about what sort of deals he would be prepared to do with a second Labour government with a vastly reduced Commons majority.

He disarmingly confessed he did not expect his party to win the next election outright but would only pledge to "cajole and influence" wherever he could.

But it is clear he hopes to be in a powerful bargaining position after the next poll - and it is almost certainly Labour he will have to be dealing with.

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dems' election fight against poverty
06 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Lib Dem pre-manifesto at a glance
03 Sep 00 | UK Politics
No 'bogus' tax cuts: Lib Dems
05 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Tories raise election heat
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