Blair unveils his blueprint of opportunity: Leadership favourite seeks 'modernised' welfare state and to harness the 'power of society'. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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Indy Politics
TONY BLAIR'S 'new left' message is the one that working-class people and traditional Labour supporters want to hear, he insisted yesterday as he launched Change and National Renewal, his leadership election statement.

Mr Blair said people wanted a society where there was economic opportunity, streets safe from the fear of crime and a society where they would get on and do well.

While the document emphasises a commitment to better education - its central theme - Mr Blair insisted Labour was not going to 'get into the business, and I will resist wholly the notion, that we should start writing tax rates'.

But in an indication that he hoped to be able to finance necessary public spending out of economic growth, he said the Government had 'run the economy so incompetently that they have failed to increase the wealth of the country . . . the stronger the economy, the less the tax burden can be and the greater the opportunity you have to spend money not on unemployment and social despair, but on giving people hope'.

Mr Blair was rated as best at understanding Britain's problems by 40 per cent of the latest Mori/Times poll last night, compared to just 16 per cent for John Major.

It was important to have a market economy, Mr Blair said, but 'we're prepared to harness the power of society through government and in other ways in order to make that market economy work.'

On the difference between his vision and the 'common ownership of the means of production' philosophy in Clause IV (4) of the party's constitution, Mr Blair said: 'Everybody in the Labour Party understands that it is the spirit and the principles behind that that are important.'

Mr Blair said he would honour John Smith's pledge to hold a referendum on the introduction of a proportional representation for the House of Commons, although he was not personally convinced of the case for it.

On unemployment, Mr Blair said people understood that Labour was not going to reopen closed mines, steelworks and shipyards. What was important was to regenerate areas by constructive modern policies involving partnership between the public and private sectors.

On the future of the welfare state, Mr Blair said: 'For many people, it will not simply be a question of benefits. It will be a question of the services that they have that will allow them to achieve the things they want. I think there will be a very clear choice at the next election between a Labour Party committed to modernising the welfare state and Tory government committed to abandoning it.'

Yesterday's document - a statement of Labour's 'principles, identity and its central mission' - includes sections on:

ECONOMIC RENEWAL: 'The goal of economic policy must be to raise the standard of living and provide a decent quality of life for all. This requires active government, ready to intervene for the common interest and to creat partnership for economic success.

'We must also challenge the Conservative dogma which claims that greater equality undermines economic performance.'

MACRO-ECONOMIC

MANAGEMENT: 'If businesses are to invest in expanding capacity, then they must be given confidence that there will be long-term, sustainable growth of demand in the economy.'

While not specifically highlighting a goal of low inflation, the document says: 'We must convince them there will be no return to the dramatic switches of macro- economic management which have produced two major recessions in the past 15 years.'

FULL EMPLOYMENT: '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 objective of any decent society.

'No one pretends this will be easy . . . But it should start now. For example, we must aim to eliminate the scars of long-term and youth unemployment. From reform to employers' national insurance to housebuilding by phased release of local authority phased receipts, we must build on our current policies to set out a practical vision of change.'

PARTNERSHIP AT WORK: 'Labour believes that trade unions have a strong, positive role to play . . . They should operate within a fair framework of law which balances rights and responsibilities.' Mr Blair makes clear his opposition to the closed shop and his support for a legal right of union recognition. The section reflects the policy he helped draw up when employment spokesman before the last election.

FAIR TAXATION: The document devotes just two paragraphs to this issue. They say: '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.

'To achieve public confidence in the taxation system, it is essential to end tax abuse, close tax loopholes and apply the tests of fairness and efficiency to all decisions on tax and spending.'

RENEWAL THROUGH LEARNING: 'Education and training hold the key not just to personal fulfilment and advancement, but also to economic prosperity and a good society. We stand for the highest standards of education for every child, for the maximum involvement of parents in their children's education . . .' Labour must also make a reality of lifelong learning.

SOCIAL RENEWAL: A reformed welfare state must:

Help people into work and reduce poverty traps so as to make work pay;

Train the unemployed and promote choice in working hours;

Recognise change in bread- winning/caring roles;

Overcome pensioner poverty;

Provide real civil rights for people with disabilities;

Ensure decent affordable housing for all and choice of tenures.

CRUSADE AGAINST CRIME: 'Being tough on crime and tough on its causes is not an empty slogan. It recognises that a sensible and effective strategy to cut crime combines personal responsibility and community action: punishment and prevention; condemnation and understanding; a criminal justice system that works and a society that acts.

'It is essential that we restore confidence in the criminal justice system. The needs of victims of crime must take a higher priority . . . We would legislate to ensure that the police and lawyers are under a duty to consult the victim before dropping a case or downgrading charges.'

POLITICAL RENEWAL: One area in which Mr Blair might have courted controversy is in relation to Northern Ireland. 'The Labour Party is committed to the aim of Irish unity by consent and the principles contained within the Downing Street Declaration.' Elsewhere, Mr Blair attacks the multiplication of unelected quangos, though he does not say Labour would abolish them. It would, however, complete the 'unfinished business' of setting up a Scottish Parliament with fiscal powers. Mr Blair says he supports the establishment of a Welsh assembly, the replacement of the House of Lords with an elected Second Chamber and the entrenchment of clear rights for citizens in a Bill of Rights. 'We should also make the case for regional government in England.'

He makes repeated references to the need for more women in senior positions in politics, and adds: 'Parliamentary procedure is out of date and its style alienating. It must be reformed.'

(Photograph omitted)

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