The Liberal Democrats must shed their tax and spend image and explain how they would cut budgets, the party's annual conference was told yesterday.
Finance spokesman Vince Cable said there was nothing to be gained by promising to spend more than Chancellor Gordon Brown. Instead the Lib Dems should cut spending, for example by scrapping the Department of Trade and Industry and Mr Brown's cherished " baby bonds" scheme, and diverting money efficiently.
Dr Cable's speech, to the party conference in Blackpool, attempted to shed the party's left-wing image.
He said: "To be frank, many voters still, however mistakenly, associate us with high taxes and spending. Our economic credibility hinges on changing that."
Labour was spending too much, he said.
"We are coming to an end of an era in which ten years of unsustainable, debt-financed spending growth by private consumers and a badly managed, over-centralised public sector will give way to years of restraint. The old quip all Labour governments eventually run out of money is beginning to ring of true. There is no credibility in promising to spend more than Labour.
"It would be like saying the answer to Billy Bunter's weight problem is more cream cakes. The only strategy making sense is to build on our pre-election approach emphasising the need for tough choices. We must say what elements of spending we would cut to finance our priorities of schools, health, pensions, law and order and overseas development."
The Lib Dems would scrap ID cards, saving up to £18 billion, and the Single Farm Payments Scheme, introduced this year to dramatically transform farming subsidies.
At the last election, the Lib Dems proposed cuts of £5 billion - but should now be more ambitious, he said. He also said the party should commit to cutting taxes, but only for the low paid. The party is reexamining tax policy, including an unpopular planned 50 per cent rate for people earning more than £100,000.
Dr Cable said: "I believe our central message should be fairer taxes; not higher taxes.
"There are many who pay too much tax. It is fundamentally wrong people who bring home less than the minimum wage should be paying income tax, on top of council tax and indirect taxes."
The party's local government spokeswoman Sarah Teather restated a commitment to local income tax.
She said council tax was "utterly untenable".