What Blair really means: As Tony Blair takes on the Tories, Paul Routledge teases out the policies that trade unionists, local Labour activists and party big-wigs have voted for

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR argued on live television at the outset of his brilliant Labour leadership election campaign that whatever the impact of his image or presentation, 'there's never a substitute for policy'.

Yet his subsequent appearances left interviewers, readers and listeners nothing if not baffled about what he will do once he achieves his goal of winning government for his party. The pundits have offered their own interpretations, some more plausible than others, and the Conservatives kept up a running commentary that hovered uncertainly between dislike and despair. Neither got to the bottom of Blair, the man of policy.

The Independent on Sunday has talked to party sources about the issues Blair is intent on making his own, and offers its own rough guide.

Full employment

'Unemployment is a price none of us can afford to pay. The 1944 White Paper on Employment said that it should be one of the primary aims and responsibilities of government to maintain high and stable levels of employment. That goal - the goal of full employment - I reaffirm as the goal of any decent society.' (Leadership election statement). He also said: 'Full employment need not be a mirage.' (Same document).

He concedes privately that this is a difficult one. John Prescott wants Labour to get unemployment down to 2.5 per cent, or 700,000 people. Some of Labour's Treasury team have been saying for months that this is frankly unrealistic. Pressure has increased by Chancellor Kenneth Clarke and John Major climbing on the full employment bandwagon. Blair can't and won't try to go one better. He will continue talking about 'goals' and 'objectives'. Hard figures and predictions are out. He may be measured against them later, and his advisers say: 'Look what that did for the Tories on tax.'

Taxation

'Taxation is essential to a civilised society; but to hold the public's trust, tax must be raised in a fair way and spent in an efficient way. Labour's approach to taxation must embody fairness and honesty in place of the lies and widening inequalities of the Conservative years. I strongly support the progressive principle as a cornerstone of a fair tax system.' (Leadership statement).

He is already indicating that it is possible to have too much of this progressive thing. Blair believes that some middle-class people - police officers, schoolteachers and middle managers - already pay too much tax. While he is in charge, there will be no repetition of the tax gaffe before the general election of 1992, which had people in wine bars everywhere calculating how much worse off they would be under Labour. They switched allegiance in their thousands. No matter how much stick he gets from the media, it will be vagueness all the way to Downing Street.

Crime

'Being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime is not an empty slogan. It recognises that a sensible and effective strategy to cut crime in this country combines personal responsibility and community action; punishment and prevention; condemnation and understanding; a criminal justice system that works and a society that acts . . . I strongly believe that Labour as the party of strong communities is the natural party of law and order.' (Leadership statement).

Having made law and order a Labour issue, he will be glad to surrender the Home Office portfolio, which could go to Margaret Beckett after the Shadow Cabinet elections in November. He will continue to promise concerted action to stop crimes being committed in the first place, and measures to break the link between drugs and crime. The general idea is to keep the police on side and create an expectation that 'something must be done', which Major has failed to do.

The Welfare State

'I have put the rebuilding of civic society at the centre of my agenda for national renewal. Society must be built around the concepts of security, opportunity and responsibility. Labour must never lose its anger at injustice. It was central to the philosophy of John Smith. We must continue to honour his legacy. The Labour Party is a crusade for social justice or it is nothing.' (Speech at Southampton Institute 13 July).

'Fifty years ago, Labour founded the Welfare State on the promise that government would guarantee social security through cash benefits 'from cradle to grave'. Today, we must make it our aim through education and training, from nursery to university, and beyond.' (Leadership statement).

He privately accepts that the country cannot afford the ballooning welfare budget - up to pounds 80bn and rising. Implicitly conceding that Lilley and Portillo have got a point, Blair argues that taxpayers have a legitimate right to know that their hard-earned money is spent with precision and purpose. Ending dependency will be part of his programme of government. He wants to get as many people out of the benefits system as possible. Take invalidity benefit. Once people get on to it, he points out, they never come off. Unemployment benefit will also come under a searching review. On the assumption that there are no more jobs for life, but rather a series of occupations, Blair will link the new Job Seeker's Allowance to training or retraining so that Britain will gain a more flexible labour force and Labour will lose its 'friend of the workshy' tag.

Environment

He did not directly mention the Big Issue of the Eighties in his key leadership speeches or manifesto. But party aides jest: 'He will be tough on grime, and tough on the causes of grime.'

Education

'We must make it an objective to give every child a good start, above all through a system of high-quality nursery education for every three and four-year- old whose parents want it. One half of a child's learning takes place before the age of five, so we must make the most of a child's eagerness and ability to learn early.' (Leadership statement).

'I am clear, and Labour is clear. Pre-school education is good for children, for parents and for the wider society and economy.' (A New Programme for Education, speech in Manchester, 4 July).

Blair has fought shy of an outright pledge to provide universal free nursery schooling because the figures are frightening. The cost of this pledge alone would amount to more than pounds 900m a year, and he is not going to have John Major taunting him across the chamber on how he would pay for it. Even more so than John Smith, Blair's message is: 'How many times do I have to say it, 'Read my lips - no new spending commitments'. ' Nor will he rush to end the Tory educational reforms. Grant Maintained Schools, which have proved popular with parents in some areas, are likely to be brought under 'democratic control' rather than returned to local authorities. Local Management of Schools, which has given head teachers financial freedom, will stay, and so will assessment of teaching - though in a modified form.

National minimum wage

'It is important to argue the case for the principle of a statutory minimum wage - that there is a level of pay beneath which people should not be able to fall.' (Panorama, 13 June).

'Employees should have the same right to decent standards in work as management take for granted. That is why I support the Social Chapter and our programme of employment rights for full and part-time workers - including a statutory minimum wage.' (Leadership statement).

He was furious that the awkward squad in Walworth Road earlier this year put it about that he would endorse a figure of pounds 4.05 an hour for the minimum wage. Blair regards this as an open goal to the Conservatives, as well as being impossible to enforce.

The furthest he will go is to concede the principle. The level of the minimum wage cannot be set until an incoming Blair administration has seen the books. Even then, Labour will exempt young people and some other groups who might benefit most.

Otherwise, aides argue, the party will antagonise the owners of the small businesses it has been so assiduously cultivating.

Labour and the unions

Blair promised: 'Strong, democratic and accountable trades unions are at the heart of a healthy democracy and a productive economy. They should operate within a fair framework of law which balances rights and responsibilities. Individuals should be entitled to join a trade union, just as they should be entitled not to do so. Workers should be entitled to have their union represent them, where there is a substantial demand for recognition.' (Leadership statement).

He actually believes there is no way that Labour should go back to secondary picketing and beer and sandwiches with Arthur Scargill. The vast bulk of the labour law reforms enacted by successive Tory employment secretaries will stay on the statute book: ballots before strikes, abolition of the closed shop, secret elections for union leaders, and similar democratising measures.

Blair acknowledges the widespread perception that the power pendulum has swung too far in favour of employers, but he sees no votes in going back to pre-1979.

Leading article, page 18

(Photograph omitted)

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