Hardline Blair vows to rule from centre

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Tony Blair yesterday issued his clearest warning so far that he intends to run a Labour government from the centre, and its election manifesto will be "uncompromisingly New Labour".

The Labour leader's remarks to newspaper editors were designed to kill lingering doubts raised by the Tory "demonic eyes" campaign that a Labour government would be in hock to the unions, or held to ransom by left-wing MPs giving a Blair government "the runaround".

But his hard-line approach risked opening rifts with traditional Labour supporters in the run-up to the election by raising fears which he ridiculed at last year's party conference that his leadership style could be compared to that of Kim il-Sung, the North Korean dictator.

Mr Blair said: "People have to know that we will run from the centre and that we will govern from the centre. They have to know that the old days of tax and spend are over."

And in a direct warning to his own left-wing MPs, he said the new commitment on the leadership to consult MPs was matched by a tough disciplinary code. "Our whips' office is the best it has been for a generation. There will not be small groups of MPs giving the runaround to a Labour government as has happened with the present administration."

He is determined to avoid a Labour government facing the same troubles as John Major, who was heavily criticised for removing the whip from rebel Tory Euro-sceptic MPs.

Rejecting Tory claims that Labour would import German levels of unemployment by imposing social chapter rules on British companies, Mr Blair made a commitment to veto European Union employment measures, if necessary.

"We will not impose the so-called German or European model of social and employment costs. If there is any attempt to impose those costs through the European Social Chapter, we will resist it, if necessary by the veto, though there is no evidence that any such move is contemplated."

Those close to the Labour leader said he would be prepared to veto social security measures and co-determination by workers in the board room. And he would not give up the veto over employment protection measures. "It is the tone of the speech that is new. It is pretty blunt. He is making it clear there will be no mucking about," said a source.

The Labour leader underlined his message to the unions at the TUC last year that there would be "fairness not favours" for trade unions under a Labour government.

But the most important passage was his confirmation of the point made by David Blunkett recently that Labour has irrevocably changed through the passage of Clause IV of the party constitution from a party dedicated to redistribution of wealth to equality of opportunity.

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