Blair asks voters to join him for a 'big conversation'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has challenged the public to come up with answers to Britain's deep-seated problems by launching a huge consultation exercise on a series of controversial policies.

Declaring that "government can't do it all", the Prime Minister pleaded with all voters to comment on a new Labour document stuffed with ideas for its next manifesto.

The 77-page prospectus, called A Future Fair For All, is part of what Mr Blair calls a "big conversation" with the electorate in the run-up to the next election. Among the provocative ideas raised are the closure of unpopular hospitals and GPs' surgeries, compulsory saving for pensions and a tax on alcohol advertising.

Other suggestions include forcing owners of rowdy bars and clubs to pay for city centre policing and powers to allow councils to ban smoking at work and in public places.

The policy document, designed not for "the next year, but the next 10 years", develops the Government's "rights and responsibilities" rhetoric with a strong emphasis on sanctions and self-help. Road users may be charged for every mile they travel, while those with unruly children may be forced to take parenting classes.

In a speech to Labour's National Policy Forum in Newport, Gwent, Mr Blair admitted that he and the Government had not listened to voters' concerns. "We are as fallible as any other group. And sometimes in the past I know people feel we have announced policy first and the explanation later. This process I hope will put things the other way round," he said.

"I want to say to people, in today's world, government can't do it all, it has to be done in partnership, with mutual responsibility for problems and solutions."


The most controversial areas include getting lone parents and the disabled back to work. The prospect of better child care and training is raised in exchange for what is euphemistically called "increasing responsibilities to find a job", i.e compulsory work interviews.

One novel idea is a "New Deal for the Employed" to give those in work help to develop skills. It asks what more can be done to bridge the pay gap between men and women, without coming up with any new proposals.


The prospectus predicts that the Government's spending review will look at the "hard choices" to deliver tailor-made services to individuals while remaining fair to all. Direct accountability and local contact with service users "will increasingly replace process and input targets at national level".

It also addresses the problem of ensuringthat the best teachers, doctors and policemen work in the poorest areas where their skills are most needed.


The biggest hi-tech issues of the day, how to speed the transfer of all sets to digital TV and how to persuade more people to go online at home, are featured. But the document fails to offer any concrete suggestions or answers of its own.


The fundamental issue of how to combine greater choice in the NHS with greater equality runs throughout the health section.

However, it shows the Government's appetite for radical reform is undiminished despite the controversy over foundation hospitals. It asks whether the public is prepared to see the closure or takeover of hospitals and GPs' surgeries that have failed to attract patients.


An FBI-style national anti-crime agency could be set up and nightclubs could be forced to pay towards the cost of policing the brawls that occur outside their premises. A truly radical idea is a much stronger link of criminal sanctions to offenders' incomes. One move left out of the latest housing Bill, cutting the benefits of those who harass or intimidate their neighbours, is included as an idea. The prospect of allowing a group of residents to club together to pay for more part-time police officers and wardens is also raised.


Tuition fees are skated over, with "greater access" to university regardless of background the main issue instead. Most controversial perhaps is the idea of compulsory parenting classes for those with unruly children.


The Scandinavian idea of giving men and women equal family leave to care for a baby is raised. In a shift from Labour's emphasis on getting mothers out to work, the document asks what more can be done to support parents caring for their children at home.


Rewriting the UN Convention on Refugees to allow asylum only to countries with a genuine refugee problem will infuriate civil liberties groups. The use of detention as a deterrent to unfounded asylum applications and ID cards will be discussed.


Planning restrictions on windfarms may be lifted. But more nuclear power stations could be built if Britain misses its carbon targets.



How important is the euro in locking in macroeconomic stability?

What more can we do to bridge the pay gap between men and women?


How can we speed up the day when all TVs are digital and how do we persuade more people to go online at home?


What is the right balance between national standards which prevent postcode lotteries in key public services and local discretion?

How can we ensure that we get the best teachers, doctors and policemen to work in the poorest areas where their skills are needed most?


Should we give lone parents and disabled people better child care and training in exchange for forcing them to find a job?


How do we combine greater choice in the NHS with greater equality?

Are you prepared to see the closure or takeover of individual hospitals which have failed to attract patients? What are the implications of genetic testing for private health insurance?


Should councils be given powers to ban smoking at work and in public places?

Should advertising of unhealthy food targeted at children be banned or further restricted?

Should there be a tax on alcohol advertising, with proceeds ploughed back into treatment?


How can we expand fixed penalty notices to cover other offences?

Should we create an FBI-style national anti-crime agency?

Should nightclubs pay towards the cost of policing brawls outside their premises?

Should the fines that people pay for criminal offences have a stronger link to income so that better-off offenders pay more?

Should we increase the use of curfews to punish people who breach a community sentence or refuse drug treatment? Should we allow residents to pay for more part-time police officers and wardens?


Should state secondary schools be given more independence and freedom?

How do we ensure greater access to university regardless of background?


What more can we do to help women and men care for their children at home?

Should men and women have equal family leave to care for a baby after its first couple of months of life?


Should we force people to save for their old age?


Should we introduce nationwide road pricing?

Should speed limits be increased or decreased on different roads?


Should we increase the use of detention to act as a deterrent to unfounded applications?