Blair promises not to raise middle-income taxes

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TONY BLAIR yesterday underpinned a call to Labour to have confidence in itself as the new 'party of the majority' with a message that it would not hit middle- income groups with higher taxes.

In an interview with the Independent, Mr Blair said: 'The notion that we should come along now to people who have suffered the equivalent of a seven pence in the standard rate rise and tell them we are going to bump up their taxes even more is absurd. It's not just daft politics. It's not right.'

Mr Blair brushed aside an undercurrent of argument within the party over the levels at which taxes would be increased under Labour with a warning that he was not going to be drawn into detailing the party's 'progressive and fair' tax plans until it was appropriate.

But, insisting the Labour conference in Blackpool this week would be planning for government, he promised the party was well aware of the burden placed on middle-income groups by what he called the incompetence and mismanagement of government economic policy.

The Labour leader coupled an appeal to the party not to be defensive about jettisoning its old-left agenda of state control with a promise it would this week establish clear water between itself and the 'crude laissez-faire dogma' of Conservatism.

Declaring that the party had embarked on a crusade for change and calling on the party to put its passion back into its politics, Mr Blair said: 'The single most important thing for the Labour Party this week is to be confident in our belief in what we're doing, to be confident in New Labour, to be confident that the change is right, that it's in line with principle and that it is making us as each day passes more relevant, more in tune, more able to be the party of mainstream majority Britain. The Tories are the party of vested interests which hold people back.

'We are the party that understands and can run a dynamic market economy.'

Mr Blair's clear signal on tax came after John Prescott, the party's deputy leader, was read as confusing Labour's message on the issue when he said in an interview on LWT's Walden programme that a fair and progressive tax system was the 'fundamental difference between us and the Tories'.