Lib Dems 'poised to break the election glass ceiling'

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Charles Kennedy has put aside his usual caution, declaring that the Liberal Democrats can break through the political "glass ceiling" and win the general election.

Charles Kennedy has put aside his usual caution, declaring that the Liberal Democrats can break through the political "glass ceiling" and win the general election.

Launching a campaign based on the slogan "10 good reasons to vote Liberal Democrat", Mr Kennedy declared yesterday that his party was capable of leaping from third to first place. He insisted: "We have no glass ceiling to our ambition going into this election."

He said the general election would turn into a "national by-election campaign". Highlighting the party's victories in Brent East and Leicester South, he said: "We have seen what can happen in those. We have been able to come from third place to first place. I think that capacity is there, providing we have got the credibility and commitment and, I think, the enthusiasm. We do."

Mr Kennedy launched the Liberal Democrats' entry into full-scale election campaigning with a £100,000 newspaper and advertising campaign, the party's largest, highlighting a 10-point plan designed to offer a positive alternative to the traditional parties.

In a series of adverts based on the themes "we oppose" and "we propose", the party pledged to scrap council tax, abolish university tuition fees, introduce free personal care for the elderly and put 10,000 more police on the streets instead of introducing identity cards.

Mr Kennedy admitted he had taken a risk by staying out of the pre-election skirmishing between Labour and the Conservatives. Aides say polling suggests that voters have not been engaged by the fighting between the two largest parties. They insist that Tory poll ratings have not shifted despite a string of media successes.

Mr Kennedy said: "The Liberal Democrats are promoting a positive agenda for Britain. It is different from the approach of the other parties. I am determined that we will fight a campaign which concentrates on real solutions to the real problems that people face in Britain every day."

He will address his candidates at a rally tomorrow in central London, while the party is preparing a major launch on crime policy next week.

The Liberal Democrat campaign is pledging "never again" on the war in Iraq. And the party is portraying its planned 50 per cent top rate of tax on high earners as opposing "hidden" tax rises. The party is positioning itself as "the real opposition" to the Government, arguing that it has taken principled positions on issues such as the Iraq war.

Dr Liam Fox, the Conservative Party co-chairman, responded: "The Liberal Democrats offer no solutions on the issues that matter most to people. They would be soft on crime, scrapping mandatory sentences for murderers and repeat rapists. They would increase taxes with a commitment to 40 new taxes. They oppose controlled immigration and are in favour of giving away more power to Europe."

An ICM survey for The Guardian put the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent of the vote. But party leaders hope to repeat their historic general election "bounce" which, if repeated, could increase their share of the vote to 26 per cent.

A close aide to Mr Kennedy said: "We are not saying we will win the election, but can we? Yes. The Conservatives cannot win. They have no presence in Scotland or Wales. They won't take seats from us in the South-west and we are the contenders in the North."