Attack on Blair starts class war

Labour in Blackpool: Aides of Tory and Labour leaders trade insults on origins of the species
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The Independent Online
Class warfare broke out between Labour and the Tories on the eve of Labour's party conference yesterday, after the Conservative Party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, made a barbed remark contrasting the social backgrounds of Tony Blair and John Major.

In an clear reference to Mr Major's background in Brixton, Mr Mawhinney said that while the Prime Minister was at ease with trade union members, Mr Blair appeared to be uncomfortable. The point was pushed further yesterday with a report that the Tories were setting their sights on Mr Blair's "silver spoon" background: a Scottish public school and a career at the Bar. No reference was made to Mr Major's old theme that the Tories had created a classless society.

However, a senior Conservative "strategist" was quoted as saying: "Blair has never done a proper job in his life. Mr Major had to work his way up from the bottom."

The suggestion that barristers do not do a proper job of work will dismay the many lawyers on the Conservative benches of the Commons, and Labour was incensed by the "snide" remark.

One senior Labour figure said Mr Major had left school with two O-levels, he had been unemployed at a time when there was full employment, and he then had to work hard to get a job at all. A leadership source added: "He may be the boy from Brixton, but it is the boys in the boardrooms of the privatised utilities who love him best."

It was left to John Prescott, the deputy Labour leader, to suggest that notions of class were outdated. He said that Labour wanted to persuade everyone, from whatever background, that it was concerned with all their aspirations and hopes.

He told John Humphrys, on BBC Television's On the Record: "Labour seems to be, and calls itself, a working-class party. I had a discussion with you about whether I live a middle-class style or working class. It seems as if Labour wanted, in industry, to represent those people up to the kind of foreman class, then, after that, we were nothing to do with them." Mr Prescott said it was pity that Labour had only won half of the votes of the working class in the last election. "It would be very nice if we got the 100 per cent."

However, he added: "Labour has to be about the aspirations of people, to be concerned about their future. We have to seek to represent the many, not the few."

In the same way, Labour had to reach out to the business community - going beyond its traditional role as being the party of the trades unions.

Reflecting a line that will be pounded hard during the week, Mr Prescott said: "In my life as a trade union official, I used to negotiate with employers constantly and I had an interest in the prosperity of the companies that I was involved in.

"But we've tended to give the impression that we are the Labour Party, but not the business party.

"What we've got to do is perhaps reach out a bit more and say we're as interested in partnership with trade unions and, indeed, business for the creation of wealth."