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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 11:39 GMT
Lib Dems pitch for honesty vote
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy
Kennedy played down pacts with other parties
Nick Assinder

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has unveiled his party's election manifesto under the title "freedom, justice, honesty."

In essence that means the Lib Dems are happy to admit they would have to increase taxes by around 2 per week for average basic rate payers to fund their 42bn spending plans over five years.

But in characteristically disarming fashion, Mr Kennedy also extended his policy of honesty to his chances of winning the next election, of getting a deal on PR voting out of Labour and of encouraging tactical voting.

Like the other main party leaders, Mr Kennedy produced a detailed document setting out precise costings for every policy in his manifesto - produced in tabloid newspaper style.

Unlike the other parties, however, he also gave detailed costing beyond the first three years of the next parliament.

Hostages to fortune

For example, on education the figures claim that - just by increasing income tax by 1p - there would be an extra 2bn plus in 2001/2 rising gradually to over 3.5bn in 2005/6.

Nurses in NHS hospital
More cash for NHS
On health the figures would be 307m rising to nearly 3bn. This spending would be paid for from a mixture of savings on the drugs bill, cash from an increased 50p top rate of tax on the highest earners and changes to capital gains tax.

Labour and the Tories are reluctant to map out precise spending commitments for the later years of the parliament, eager to avoid leaving any hostages to economic fortune.

They both claim that Mr Kennedy's figures don't add up and, in any case he will never get the chance to put them into practice.

For his part, the Lib Dem leader insists it is the two other parties who can't do their sums and that their tax and spend plans will either mean cuts in public services or increases in indirect taxation.

He has also insisted that his manifesto is radical on several fronts other than his tax pledge.

Instead of having a separate section on the environment, the issue has been factored in to every single policy area.

And there are policies to free up teachers, doctors and the police from endless form-filling.

Not prime minister

But Mr Kennedy knows it is unlikely he will form the government after the next election and, if he is to stand any chance of pressing home his agenda, will have to work with whoever does.

"I am not going to make over the top claims. I am not sitting here saying in three weeks time we are going to be the majority party. But we can win more votes and more seats and deliver on more of our agenda," he said.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown and Prime Minister Tony Blair
Asdown was dealing with Blair
And he claimed many of his party's previous ideas - such as independence for the Bank of England - had already been taken up and his job was to ensure more were adopted in the next parliament.

However, he also appeared to play down any hope of getting a firm commitment from Labour on changing the voting system for Westminster, accepting Labour's plans for a review and expressing the hope he could push them to a referendum on the issue.

Tactical voting

He was also honest about his view on tactical voting, which many see as his party's best hope of winning more seats.

No politician likes to be seen admitting they cannot win without such tactics, but he effectively encouraged it by declaring that, while he neither condoned nor condemned it, people would do it anyway.

And, unlike his predecessor Paddy Ashdown who was secretly attempting to win cabinet seats for his party under a Labour government in 1997, he also played down further co-operation with Tony Blair while refusing to rule out working on anything with any government if it helped get his policies adopted.

The underlying message from all this was that, as he has declared many times before, "with the Lib Dems, you get what you see."

However, history suggests that, whatever they may say in public, voters do not like what they see when it comes to pledges to increase taxes.

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