Blair stakes claim to 'One-Nation' vision

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The Independent Online


John Major has failed to deliver the classless society he promised, creating instead a "two-nation" Britain, Tony Blair declared last night to a thousand-strong public meeting.

Using the gathering in Derby of party members and the public to reinforce his "stakeholder economy" message, the Labour leader insisted that his vision was about giving power and influence to individuals.

Although that could have been equally uttered by the Prime Minister, Mr Blair accused the Tories of favouring the privileged few, while issuing a fresh denial that his stakeholder theme involved any return to excessive union power.

There were cheers from the all-ticket audience as the former agent to the Tory MP Edwina Currie told the packed meeting that she had joined the Labour Party because it represented "one-nation" politics.

In an intervention cleverly managed by party organisers, Alison Creer, the former agent to the MP for Derbyshire South, said she had been Mrs Currie's agent for five years. But she added: "I believe in what you've said Tony - the Tory party doesn't believe in representing everyone and that everyone should have a stake in society. They only believe in the few.

"I joined the Labour Party because they are the only party that believes in one nation."

Mr Blair disclosed that next month the party would announce it had 400,000 members for the first time in many years.

And in an appeal to small businessmen, he said Labour was considering introducing legislation to enforce the payment of interest on late payment of bill, a problem that has bedevilled many small companies with bigger customers and, according to Labour figures today, even those doing business with government departments.

Taking the stakeholder argument into the enemy camp last night, the Labour leader insisted that in attacking the concept, the Tories had given up any pretence of serving the whole country and had vacated the centre ground of British politics.

"Why has the man who promised a classless society set his face against plans that will make a reality of that classless society?" Mr Blair demanded. Invoking the "tell Sid" slogan during the gas sell-off, he said: "It's not Sid the Tories look after. It's Cedric."