Election '97: Manifesto for business silent on Labour's sell-off plans

Blair tells invited City audience that his party is entrepreneurs' champion

Labour's business manifesto, launched in the City yesterday, failed to mention Tony Blair's plans for more privatisation.

The document, Equipping Britain for the Future, says some things are done best by the private sector and some by the public. But there is no reference to sell-offs to fill a hole in the public finances, though it does promise a register of national assets.

However, the document does underline Labour's promise to keep the Conservatives' trade union legislation, along with its promise to take a tough stance on public sector pay, spending and borrowing.

Mr Blair told an invited audience in the City that a Labour government would keep up a continuing dialogue with business. The party was now the "entrepreneurs' champion", he said.

"We want Britain to be a great place to do business. We want business in Britain to succeed and deliver healthy growth, good profits, rising living standards and more jobs."

The manifesto restates a number of existing Labour pledges, including the need to achieve underlying inflation of 2.5 per cent or less, to cut bureaucracy and to borrow only to invest.

It suggests trade unions would be recognised only where a majority of the relevant workforce voted to be represented by a union and had decided to join one.

Labour would keep existing laws which means employers cannot be forced to reinstate staff who have been unfairly dismissed, it says.

Asked about Labour's relations with the trade unions, Mr Blair said: "There are many people in trade unions that will support the basic principles of a successful and dynamic economy and that's fine. It is tremendously important to give a clear message to the British people that if you vote Labour you are getting a pro-business, pro-enterprise government."

The manifesto says a review of national assets would be completed by November, and departments would be required to sell any property, land or other holdings they did not need.

Mr Blair said: "The Tories believe the future of Britain lies as a low- wage, low-skill economy. I don't believe that. I think the future of Britain lies in education, technology, skills and quality products."

The launch was addressed by a number of business people who have decided to back Labour at the general election.

Gerry Robinson, chairman of Granada, said he had never voted Labour before but would do so on 1 May. "From my observation I can say confidently that business can do business with new Labour. That in my view is one of the healthiest changes in British politics for a very long time."

Tim Waterstone, founder of Waterstone's book shops, said he believed Gordon Brown would be "one of the very finest Chancellors."

"To coin a phrase, I watch his lips and I believe him. I think he has an almost apolitical approach to the need for stability in the economy."

At a press conference later Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, showed a video of Labour's treasury spokesman, Alistair Darling, arriving at Glaxo Wellcome in Dartford, Kent, to launch the manifesto, but being told by the company that it was expecting no such event. "What a pity Labour can't run its election campaign as well as Glaxo runs its business. Labour is no friend of business," he said.

Tory sources also claimed that a strike announced yesterday by Essex firefighters would expose Labour. Its employment spokesman, Ian McCartney, has disclosed an pounds 8,000 donation from the Fire Brigades' union towards his office expenses.

The pledges

Inflation at 2.5 per cent or less

250,000 young people off benefit and back into work

More public/private partnerships, eg transport system

A university for industry to improve skills Fairer competition; lift restrictions on telecoms companies

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