Labour in Blackpool: Union chiefs stay firm over minimum wage: Nicholas Timmins, Patricia Wynn Davies and Barrie Clement report on Morris's uncompromising demand

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The Independent Online
THE LABOUR Party must put facts and figures on its plans for a national minimum wage and its targets for full employment by next year, John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, said yesterday.

Bill Morris, leader of Labour's biggest affiliate, the TGWU, meanwhile delivered an uncompromising demand for the party leader Tony Blair to abide by the 'existing' policy, which specifies the lower limit at half the level of median male earnings.

Mr Morris insisted yesterday that a TGWU motion, likely to be passed, endorsing party documents specifying the mechanism would mean that the formula was still policy.

The clash came as rumblings on the Labour left about the thrust of economic policy continued. Peter Hain, the Tribunite MP and national executive committee candidate, said that people, 'still want to know what it all amounts to'. Mr Edmonds, interviewed on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, said the figure for the national minimum wage will have to be declared before the next election, but that the party already had the formula - half median male earnings. At present, that would mean just over pounds 4 an hour.

But he told a news conference that a full-employment policy should take preference over the minimum wage. 'Without full employment the national minimum wage would mean very little,' he said.

While accepting that Mr Blair had chosen to decide how the wage would be introduced, he nonetheless backed the formula, saying Labour's economic policy commission should simply work out how it would operate and whether it would affect overtime rates. The warning that the unions will attempt to pin Mr Blair to specifics next year - with John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader, also believing targets for reducing unemployment should be set - came as Mr Hain said: 'Rather than near- zero inflation, full employment should be the main objective of economic policy.'

Writing in the Sunday Times, Mr Hain said full employment, 'requires public spending and public investment, switching borrowing to investment in jobs and growth rather than to finance mass unemployment.' Redistributive taxation, with higher rates raising at least pounds 4bn from those earning more than pounds 50,000 a year, would inject extra demand into the domestic economy, he argued - because the low-paid, whose tax should be reduced, tend to spend on home produced goods, not on 'luxury imports'.

Following his weekend warning that the rich would pay 'considerably more' tax under Labour, Mr Prescott insisted on LWT's Walden programme that Labour wanted a fairer system to stop tax- dodging by millionaires.

He added, however, that it was 'quite wrong' that after 15 years of Tory government many high earners were paying less tax and lower- income people were carrying the greatest burden.

But in a glimpse of the underlying divide between Mr Prescott and arch Labour 'modernisers', Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, said on the eve of his economy speech that Labour's first priority was to increase the sustainable level of growth. After that, the party wanted to improve public services. 'If we can make the improvements in the public services that people want to see . . . then I've said . . . that if there was scope we would want to reduce the burden of taxation particularly on low-income Britain.'

But Mr Hain said that if Labour allowed itself to be imprisoned within the Government's framework of spending, tax and borrowing, 'then it cannot present a viable alternative'.

Labour front-bencher Clare Short conceded on Breakfast with Frost that there was a question to answer of 'how we get take off?'.