Lib Dems come clean on taxes to fund policies

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The Independent Online
The Liberal Democrats struck out on their own in the pre-election campaign yesterday, becoming the only party to publicly back higher taxes if they were needed to pay for first class public services.

Paddy Ashdown, the party leader, also underlined that his recent vow not to prop up a minority John Major government did not mean that the Liberal Democrats depended on joining forces in a Labour-led coalition to get their programme of priorities implemented. "You can be very influential from the opposition benches as well as from within government, and sometimes more so," he said.

Spotlighting the potentially high-risk strategy of being "honest about taxation", he added: "The hard fact is that you can't have decent public services unless you are prepared to pay for them and taxation is, at least in part, the price of membership of a civilised society."

The party set out its pre-election stall yesterday in the Liberal Democrat Guarantee, which spotlights three policy priorities of improved education and training, paid for if necessary by an extra 1p in the pound income tax; constitutional and governmental reform; and an environmentally sustainable economy and infrastructure.

The document, due to be endorsed at the Liberal Democrat conference next week, says: "Every vote cast for the Liberal Democrats and every seat we win in Parliament will be used to secure these goals." It pledges "fair tax, not high tax", but also no taxation without explanation, no promises unless the bill is attached, and a war on wasteful government spending.

The party has highlighted its long-standing call for abolition of mortgage interest tax relief by promising the form of housing support "to ensure that help gets to the households in greatest need, whether they rent or own their homes", while backing extra resources to fund 3,000 additional police officers.

The Liberal Democrats have already signalled a top income tax rate of 50 per cent for those earning more than about pounds 100,000 to offset the cost of spending programmes.

The message party chiefs want to convey is that voting Liberal Democrat would help bring implementation of the key policies because of the pressure the party could bring to bear in the event of a small majority.

n The Liberal Democrats will today accept some of the Government's changes to the NHS in a paper, Building on the Best of the NHS. It rejects the "internal market" in the NHS but, like Labour, insists it should not suffer another upheaval.