Kennedy pleads for positive fight

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Charles Kennedy has called for a positive election campaign, and urged Liberal Democrat candidates to strike a positive note during a speech in which he promised to "talk Britain up".

Charles Kennedy has called for a positive election campaign, and urged Liberal Democrat candidates to strike a positive note during a speech in which he promised to "talk Britain up".

Mr Kennedy, who believes that mud-slinging between Labour and the Conservatives will play into the Liberal Democrats' hands, told a gathering of prospective MPs for the South-east at the party's campaign headquarters that the electorate felt "badly let down by Labour".

He said: "Britain is in so many ways a fortunate country, and a good country to live in. We have principles of tolerance and social justice. By international standards we are an affluent society. But we can and must do better. We're not in the business of talking Britain down. We're going to talk Britain up. We are ambitious for Britain."

Mr Kennedy also dismissed charges of a "black hole" at the heart of the Liberal Democrat spending plans, insisting that the party's figures added up.

He promised that the Liberal Democrats would provide details of how much a new 50p rate of tax on incomes above £100,000 could raise.

Both Labour and the Conservatives seized on a report that the party's spending estimates have been adjusted after the Inland Revenue revised down the amount of cash that could be raised by the tax. It suggested that the party would be able to raise £3.8bn in 2005-06, less than it had suggested six months ago.

But Mr Kennedy said yesterday that it was always the case that its figures would be revised in the light of the Budget last month.

"We will publish, in a couple of days' time, our final election manifesto. We will also publish, as we always have done, the detailed costings attached - what the menu is, what the price-tag is," he told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost.

"It ill behoves me to come forward to people and say 'vote for us and we can do the following and this is what it will cost you,' then to be caught out by saying the figures wouldn't add up. The figures do add up, I can assure you, and you will see that in a few days' time."

Polls suggested yesterday that the Liberal Democrats were stuck on about 20 per cent of the vote. However, that is above the 18 per cent support they picked up in the last election, and they will be hoping that their continued exposure during the campaign will raise them above 25 per cent.

He said: "Labour has wasted the opportunity given to it by the British people over these last eight years. Under Labour, the poorest 20 per cent of people are paying more of their income in tax than the wealthiest 20 per cent.

"When you break your promises over tax increases and student top-up fees, people don't forget. Nor will people forgive the fact that Tony Blair lined up with George Bush and we were misled into the Iraq war.

"People feel badly let down by Labour. They're never going to regain the trust of the British people."

Mr Kennedy also promised that his party would impose "no hidden taxes" - its only new tax being a 50 per cent rate of income tax on earnings over £100,000.

"We should be proud of what that will pay for - an end to tuition fees; providing free personal care for the elderly; and reducing the burden of local taxation," he said.

But the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, George Osborne, ridiculed the Liberal Democrats for not being able to do their sums. "It is yet further confirmation they are not remotely fit for government. A party that makes simple errors like this should not be allowed anywhere near the nation's finances."

The Labour MP Liam Byrne said: "The 50p tax rate is critical to their appeal to the retired, students and their parents. They claimed their figures add up - and now we have independent proof they don't."

Mr Kennedy, addressing an audience of around 50 of the party's election candidates for seats in the South-east, was accompanied at the event by his heavily pregnant wife, Sarah, who is due to give birth to their first child during the election campaign.

Posing for pictures beside the new battle bus - plastered with the party's slogan, "the Real Alternative", she said she was "very well".

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