Kennedy reveals 'no limit' election ambitions

The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy today defended his party's plans to levy more taxation from high earners and to finance local government through a local income tax as he launched his party's General Election strategy.

Mr Kennedy told a Westminster news conference there was "no limit" to the Liberal Democrats' ambitions for the election.

He believed voters would understand there were sound arguments for the taxation proposals.

He dismissed as "fantastical" Conservative plans to offer billions of pounds in tax cuts funded by reductions in the size of government.

Under the Liberal Democrat plans, there would be a new 50% rate of income tax on every pound earned over £100,000.

This would fund the party's flagship policies of abolishing university tuition and top-up fees, introducing free personal care of the elderly and the transition from the council tax to local income tax.

Challenged on whether the party could make progress given its taxation plans, Mr Kennedy said: "I think we can, because people are not stupid. People know that you can't get something for nothing.

"People know that the figures have got to add up and I don't think that they will feel later today, or over the coming weeks, that the Conservatives' figures remotely add up, or have any credibility to them whatsoever.

"With us, they will be presented with a straightforward package which will have a price tag attached, and we will invite them to decide."

On the Tories' plans, which were being detailed later today, Mr Kennedy said: "I don't think that people will be taken in by what the Conservatives appear to be offering. People will know that the sound they hear is of the clock striking thirteen.

"I think quite frankly they (the Tories' figures) are fantastical."

With taxation and spending shaping up to be a key battleground at the election - expected on May 5 - Conservative co-chairman Dr Liam Fox swiftly hit back at Mr Kennedy.

Dr Fox said: "Just like Mr Blair, the Liberal Democrats will put up taxes. Charles Kennedy talked about the choice at the election. It is very clear: higher taxes under the Liberal Democrats and Mr Blair, or value for money and lower taxes under the Conservatives.

"Nor would the Liberal Democrats tackle what matters to the majority of people today. They would offer freedom to criminals, raise 44 unfair taxes, and give more control to Europe."

Mr Kennedy used his press conference to seek to portray his party as "the real Opposition" to the New Labour Government.

He highlighted key policies such as opposing the introduction of a national identity card scheme, cutting school class sizes, providing more nursery places, an end to means-testing for pensioners and a £100-a-month increase in pensions for those aged over 75, and 10,000 more police on the streets.

He also highlighted his party's opposition to the war in Iraq.

Mr Kennedy was challenged to spell out in straightforward terms whether, in the event of a hung Parliament, there were any circumstances in which his party would prop up Labour.

Mr Kennedy insisted: "Short of a government of national unity if, God forbid, the country finds itself at war, you can take it that the Liberal Democrats in the next House of Commons will be there as an independent political party. Full stop."