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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Kennedy pledges honesty
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is making honesty one of the central pitches of his election campaign.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy has focused on honesty
Seizing on what he believes is a widespread breakdown in trust in political leaders, he claims his party, above all the others, tells it like it is.

He was certainly honest enough to admit that, thanks to two day old baby Donald James, he had not had enough sleep during the night.

That much was abundantly clear at his early morning manifesto launch which, undoubtedly to his great relief, was carried out mostly from comfortable chairs rather than at upright podiums.

There were mutterings from the body of the press conference about how tired he looked - largely from journalists themselves still blinking into the early morning light.

Maybe it won't do him any harm - it adds to the image of Charles the ordinary bloke, now also the normal family man learning how to change nappies and do without sleep.

Raise tax

But what may have done a little damage was the apparent confusion over his plans to abolish the council tax and replace it with a local income tax.

Precisely how much that would raise and who would end up paying how much of that new tax was unclear and led to some intense post-press conference "clarification" from the party's shadow chancellor Vince Cable.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy lost some sleep
Ultimately though, what the party is stressing is that it is honest enough to declare it will raise income tax on those earning over 100,000 a year to fund the scrapping of tuition fees, provide free personal care for the elderly and reduce the local tax - whatever it is.

That, they claim, will see a typical household being 450 a year better off and 6 million pensioners paying no local tax at all.

Whether honesty, in this case, is the best policy remains to be seen.

What Mr Kennedy and his team are desperate to throw off is any impression that their policies are uncosted or unrealistic.

The appointment of Mr Cable, a former chief economist at Shell, was designed to finally put an end to suggestions the party was anything other than scrupulous in its costings.

Core policies

Similarly, much of the old, some would say flaky policies of the past Liberal days have long gone.

In their place, Mr Kennedy has attempted to put a programme designed to appeal to both disaffected Labour and wavering Tory voters.

Vince Cable
Cable is portrayed as tough
It has led to regular claims that what he has ended up with is a manifesto which will indeed appeal to old Labour voters but less so to the Tory supporters he really needs to appeal to if he is to make any sort of election breakthrough.

Mr Kennedy dismisses that as outdated thinking, insisting old allegiances are no longer anything to go by.

Core policies on the council tax and tuition fees, for example, would appeal across the political spectrum.

And, of course, he is still trading on his party's consistent opposition to the war on Iraq.

What Mr Kennedy ultimately hopes in this election is that, as the new father himself said: "There is a lot to be said for new arrivals."



What the Lib Dems say in their manifesto