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Lib Dems: We are real opposition

Kennedy: Called for a "proper exit strategy" for British troops from Iraq
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Assessing the election challengers to British PM Tony Blair.
Which party is best equipped to take Britain forward in 2005?
Liberal Democrat
Tony Blair
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Charles Kennedy
Great Britain

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain's Liberal Democrats launched their election platform Thursday saying they were the true opposition to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Leader Charles Kennedy returned from time-off due to the birth of his first baby with an upbeat message from the UK's only major party to oppose the Iraq war.

At a news conference, he repeated his opposition to the war and criticized Tony Blair's relationship with President George W. Bush.

"Many people will remember the principles and consistent Liberal Democrat opposition to the war in Iraq - representing the views of millions of our fellow citizens. Many people will remember that the Conservatives lined up with Tony Blair and George Bush."

Kennedy called for a "proper exit strategy for British troops". He said the aim should be a phased withdrawal of British forces at the end of this year when the U.N. legal mandate expires.

He stressed a commitment to diplomacy, the single European currency and a rise in the top rate of income tax.

He also proclaimed the Lib Dems were the most socially progressive of the country's three main parties.

Most opinion polls show the party enjoys roughly 20 percent support ahead of the May 5 election. Blair's Labour party leads with between 36 and 39 percent and the main opposition Conservatives are a few points behind in second.

"Over the course of the last parliament, as a party, we have been the real opposition over the big issues of the day ... and the Conservatives over that period have themselves flip-flopped on so many of those matters," said Kennedy.

The Lib Dems' poll ratings and Britain's first-past-the-post voting system mean the party's chances of taking part in the next government are negligible but Kennedy urged voters to send a strong signal by voting Liberal Democrat.

"I want as maximum a number of members of the parliament for the Liberal Democrats as the electorate will deliver," he said.

"But I also want as big a popular vote as can be achieved and I want to use that as a basis to argue for a better voting system that does nothing more than reflect people's views more accurately," he said.

He also urged voters to take a "fresh look" at the party, adding: "I do not think it is a major issue whether somebody may have voted for Tony Blair or Labour in years gone by or may have voted for Conservatives.

"What we want them to do is take a fresh look at us as a political party and take a fresh look at British politics."

There was some media criticism of Kennedy later after he mixed up details of the party's tax plans. The party wants to scrap the council tax and replace it with a local income tax.

Kennedy appeared confused over how much money the new tax would raise and who would end up paying more.

The new father said he "could have done with more" sleep the previous night. (Robin Oakley's blog)

The party's Treasury spokesman Vince Cable later admitted there had been some confusion.

"We've had one mistake which we have acknowledged, that we failed to point out that local income tax is a tax-cutting measure.

"It's a tax-cutting measure and we should have made that clearer." Challenged on BBC's "The Daily Politics" that Kennedy did not know his own policies, Cable said: "He does, but that did not come across."

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