LibDems say ready if snap election called

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BRIGHTON, Sep 17 (Reuters) The Liberal Democrats say they are on election standby and are ready for a national campaign if Prime Minister Gordon Brown calls an early election.

The party plans to have its manifesto ready by the end of its annual conference in Brighton this week and already has 200 candidates, including sitting MPs, selected for constituencies.

Party manifesto chief Steve Webb, MP for Northavon in Gloucestershire, will tell delegates today he is to meet 20 shadow cabinet ministers over the next two days to go ''line-by-line'' through their sections of the policy document.

''Gordon -- we'll be ready for you,'' he will say.

The party has printed thousands of leaflets to push through letterboxes across Britain, damning Labour and Conservative environment policies, and says it will distribute them over the coming weeks even if no poll is called.

Lib Dem chief executive Chris Rennard puts the chances of an early election as high as one in three, and believes the most probable date would be October 25.

However, analysts say the crisis at mortgage bank Northern Rock has reduced the likelihood of a snap poll.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson has played down the chances of a snap election, telling BBC television yesterday there were ''big issues'' for the government to tackle.

Today Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable will criticise top City of London earners -- which a poll for the party shows could be a popular tactic.

The survey of 2,250 voters across all three main parties by YouGov found that two thirds thought the richest should pay more tax, with 84 per cent saying the gap between rich and poor is too wide.

The party wants to close loopholes it says are used by the wealthiest financiers to reduce their effective tax rate to 10 pence in the pound, in order to raise 6 billion pounds.

It plans to use this to help fund the 19.2 billion pound cost of a 4 pence cut in the basic rate of tax.

''It is clear that the Liberal Democrats' emphasis on fairer taxes -- but not higher tax levels -- with tax cuts for those on low and middle incomes, strikes a chord with the voters,'' said Cable.

''There is genuine disgust at some of the tax dodging by the super rich, including the abuse of non-domicile status, and a large majority share our wish to see a crackdown.'' The party says its tax proposals would mean 90 percent of the population would be better off, with families on annual income of more than 70,000 pounds a year paying more tax.

Also contributing to the tax cut would be 6.7 billion pounds of green taxes, levied on polluting vehicles and air transport.

Delegates will vote today on the party's detailed environment plans, which include proposals to double investment in rail transport by levying a duty on road hauliers using motorways.

The proposals, to be presented by Environment Spokesman Chris Huhne, include the aim of making Britain carbon neutral by 2050.

Reuters RC VP0600

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