Blair to woo green voters

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The Independent Online
TONY Blair, the Labour leader, will make a clear pitch for the green vote this week by calling for a shift of traffic from road to rail, and promising an integrated national transport strategy.

In his first speech as party leader on environmental issues, Mr Blair will argue that there is an unprecedented consensus to reduce road traffic.

But he will disappoint some environmentalists who hoped he would promise to create a separate "green ministry" in Whitehall, if elected. That issue has not yet been resolved.

In a speech on Tuesday to the Royal Society, Mr Blair will endorse and strengthen Labour's existing green policy, arguing that "environmentalism is not a fad that will go away".

His promise of an integrated national transport strategy - anathema to Margaret Thatcher and her government of the 1980s - will still put clear water between Labour and the Tories at the next general election.

Mr Blair will back this up with a promise to integrate environmental considerations into Whitehall decision-making. Under Labour, resources would be switched from road-building to, for example, rail, light railways and trams. The strategy, which will be spelt out in a transport policy document later this year, will seek to woo motorists away from their cars rather than penalise them.

Mr Blair will also suggest new mechanisms for measuring the effect of pollutants on health - highlighting, for example, the increase of asthma.

The Labour leader does not, however, intend to get embroiled in the controversy over the Newbury by-pass which is backed by the local Labour party.

Labour sees environmental protection as part of its "stakeholder" economy, and argues that high standards are not inconsistent with job creation and competitiveness.

The party will also back an energy efficiency drive and press for the reform of wasteful price support mechanisms for farm produce created by the Common Agricultural Policy.

Green 'megaphone', page 8