Labour's road from socialism

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The Independent Online
New Labour was yesterday stripped of its last remnants of socialist baggage as Tony Blair took his manifesto to the country, declaring: "The old ideologies are dead."

At the end of the "Road to the Manifesto" process, the way was strewn with discarded pledges and commitments that had weighed down the party's hopes for election victory.

Even before Mr Blair's leadership, heavyweight political commitments such as pulling out of Europe, unilateral nuclear disarmament, and renationalisation were dumped.

Yesterday, after still more pruning, the process continued with the dropping of the symbolic socialist words, "full employment".

Launching his draft manifesto, New Labour, New Life for Britain, the Labour leader said the party was still committed to "high and stable levels of employment" - the 1944 Beveridge White Paper definition of full employment.

But he added: "I am quite convinced myself that what the people of this country want is not the Labour Party to promise that we can have full employment. What they want is that we will take specific measures to get unemployment down ... That is the only serious and credible pledge that we can make."

The words "full employment" were also dropped from Neil Kinnock's 1992 manifesto. Mr Blair was then Labour employment spokes-man. To the delight of the unions and left-wingers, John Smith reinstated the words after that election defeat.

New Life for Britain yesterday promised to "set and hold to a target for low and stable inflation", but shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown said no target would be set for the the levels of employment.

Mr Blair said that Labour would make a start with its commitment to help the young and long-term unemployed. "Keir Hardie would sign up to that," he said. "Attlee would sign up to that, Harold Wilson would sign up to that."

The pre-manifesto also dumped any aspiration to keep the value of state pensions in line with general earnings. In the 1992 election, Labour promised an increase of pounds 5 for single pensioners, pounds 8 for couples, linked thereafter to average earnings. Mr Blair said that pensioners should not "feel disappointed that we're not making huge promises that we may not be able to keep".

In Mr Blair's two years as leader, he has shifted a whole range of policies dramatically, including this month pledging referendums on Scottish and Welsh devolution.

Better things to come, page 4