Election manifesto casts Liberal Democrats as party of fairness
Nick Clegg (pictured) said the Liberal Democrats would "hardwire fairness into British society" as he unveiled his party's election manifesto on Wednesday. But he refused to be drawn into talk of post-election alliances.
REUTERS - Britain's third-biggest political party, the Liberal Democrats, on Wednesday set out a policy programme which would form the basis of negotiations if it holds the balance of power after an inconclusive election.
The centrist Lib Dems have long been frustrated by Britain's first-past-the-post voting system that means their share of more than 20 percent of the vote gives them only a bloc of 63 seats in the current 646-member parliament.
However, with polls suggesting that neither ruling Labour nor the opposition Conservatives will win an outright majority on May 6, the Lib Dems could end up holding the balance of power in the next parliament.
Party leader Nick Clegg refused to speculate on the various scenarios that could emerge after the election, saying his party was "aiming high" fighting more seats than before and on a bigger scale geographically than any other party.
But he said parties would have to speak to each other in the unusual event of a so-called hung parliament and be clear on their priorities.
"I think if there is a balanced parliament it is not a question of us or anyone else paving the way for someone to have their way," he said.
"You are entitled to say what are the things you are prepared to fight for."
The LibDem priorities, set out in its manifesto, were creating jobs in a "greener" economy, cleaning up politics after a scandal over lawmakers' expenses, cutting taxes for lowest earners and boosting investment in schools.
Markets are nervous about a hung parliament, and British gilt futures slipped on Wednesday underperforming German Bunds after an opinion poll overnight showed the opposition Conservative Party's lead narrowing over Labour.
The party, which has accused the other two main parties of stealing their policies, said cross-party cooperation would be needed to tackle the country's record budget deficit, which is estimated to be 163 billion pounds this financial year.
The LibDems identified 15 billion pounds of savings in government spending each year, two-thirds of which would go towards paying off the deficit after 2011/12.
It does not plan an increase in the sales tax VAT, but rather it would introduce a 2 billion pound bank levy, restrict tax credits, scrap ID cards and part of an order for Eurofighter warplanes.
Clegg pledged honesty and a fair tax system, paid for largely by a clamp down on tax avoidance, adding: "There isn't spare money to splash around."
The LibDems have taken a hard line on banks, calling for curbs on bonuses and the separation of investment banking operations from less racy retail operations.
The party's finance spokesman Vince Cable has emerged as an authority on economic issues during the financial crisis and some critics say he outshines his younger leader Clegg, something the leader brushed off saying he would be delighted if Cable was to become finance minister.
Clegg, who became party leader in 2007, has promised to bump up the number of LibDems seats, saying it has made the right decisions on the big issues, such as the banks, the environment, and the war in Iraq.