Labour outlines economic strategy

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The Independent Online
Labour finally unveiled its plans for the economy yesterday, which give markedly less emphasis to low inflation than recent speeches by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, and Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor.

The 70-page document, A New Economic Future for Britain, launched at a conference of business leaders and economists, restates policies developed over the past year on economic management, tax and employment. It repeats the party's "determination to take no risks with inflation", but gives equal prominence to the aims of increasing growth and employment.

John Edmonds, of the GMB general union and a leading internal dissident, said yesterday: "The text of the document tends to act as a counterweight to what is being stated as its central thrust since Tony Blair gave the Mais Lecture, which is low and stable inflation."

He pointed out that the document promises that Labour would "set out the implications for employment" of targets for inflation and growth in each year's Budget. It also restates Labour's commitment to "full employment" as set out in the 1944 Employment White Paper.

In his Mais Lecture last month, Mr Blair set out the option of making the Bank of England semi-independent - giving it the power to decide the timing and size of interest rate changes. But these proposals have been left out of yesterday's document, although plans to widen the membership of the Bank's governing court are included.

Mr Blair made it clear that Labour's economic policy would continue to change. The document is only "consultative", and further work was needed on designing a training initiative, generating "long-termism" and getting the long-term unemployed back to work.

It says Labour's employment team "are consulting widely on how a Labour government can act to get jobs for the long-term unemployed at no net cost to the taxpayer, and within existing budgets".

Despite the length and detail of the document, the veil remains drawn over Labour's policy on the single European currency, as it merely restates Labour's qualified support for "progress towards economic and monetary union".

The document confirms Labour's new refusal to set the level of a national minimum wage until after the general election, as the Low Pay Unit and the civil service union NUCPS published a report demanding a rate of pounds 4.15 an hour - the equivalent of Labour's pounds 3.40 an hour rate at the last election.

On tax, the document sets out broad principles of fairness, and at the conference Mr Brown repeated his familiar line that it would be irresponsible to set tax rates at present. But he did commit the party to do so in its manifesto.

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