Heseltine steps up battle of ideas

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Political Correspondent

Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, stepped up the ideological battle with Labour yesterday, in a speech reiterating that Tony Blair's "stakeholder economy" would cut down individual rights in favour of local councils, unions and a regulatory state.

He accused Labour of seeking to replace parents and teachers with local authorities in the management of schools and of trying to re-establish power for the trade unions.

In what Labour claimed was a "speech that never was", Mr Heseltine claimed the Opposition wanted to "penalise" company shareholders "through their punitive windfall tax and to reintroduce central control of the utilities through an ever greater extension of the regulatory regime," he said.

In an implicit rebuff to Baroness Thatcher's claim that the Tory party was failing the middle classes, Mr Heseltine declared: "Every day the evidence becomes clearer that this Conservative government is achieving its grand purpose."

Labour duly put out a dossier refuting each of 11 claims made against it by Mr Heseltine.

As Labour claimed to remain the clear winner on points in the battle of ideas, their deputy leader, John Prescott, went on the offensive, declaring that nobody "seriously believed" Mr Heseltine had actually delivered the speech and that he was going to desperate lengths to avoid journalists.

A party spokeswoman accused Mr Prescott of pulling a "cheap gimmick to stop journalists from reporting what Mr Heseltine actually says. Mr Prescott believes everyone lies about meetings".

The Tories' Smith Square HQ none the less felt the need to describe the speech as to a "seminar in London" and to refuse to give details about its location before issuing the text to the media.