Labour will give all chance to be middle class, says Milburn

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Labour will give everyone the chance of enjoying the benefits of a middle-class lifestyle if it wins a third term, Alan Milburn, the party's election co-ordinator, has said.

Labour will give everyone the chance of enjoying the benefits of a middle-class lifestyle if it wins a third term, Alan Milburn, the party's election co-ordinator, has said.

A pledge to sweep away the old class system and allow the poorest people in Britain to improve their lives will be one of the "big ideas" in Labour's general election manifesto, which will be discussed by the Cabinet on Thursday. Tony Blair is expected to announce a 5 May election a week today.

Mr Milburn told The Independent: "One of the problems that has bedevilled Britain for generations, if not centuries, has been an entrenched class-based society. What we want to do in a third term is to drive forward an opportunity society where you open up British society to the talents of everybody. That doesn't mean you level down. It's the reverse - you level up.

"Our agenda is about breaking down barriers, opening doors and providing opportunities so that more people get the opportunity to join the middle class."

Class is a sensitive issue for Labour because of the party's traditional working-class base. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, was rebuked by his own father when he described himself as "pretty middle class". John Major, the former Tory prime minister, promised to create a "classless society" but Labour claims he failed to bridge the gap and wants to make the "opportunity society" a key dividing line between it and the Tories at the election.

Labour strategists insist the party is neither launching a new "class war" on the privileged or turning its back on the working class. One said: "It's not about making everyone middle class but giving everyone the opportunity to have a middle-class life: a decent education, a fulfilling job and career, the stabilities of middle-class life that give people security and opportunity in their daily lives, which should be open to everybody.

"We want to make Britain into a genuinely open, mobile and meritocratic society. How do you do that? You beat back child and pensioner poverty and poverty pay, give people a foot on the housing ladder, open up more choices for patients and parents, give every child the best start in life, make sure everybody who wants a job can have one and make training and high skills available to all," Mr Milburn said.

In a speech to a Fabian Society conference tomorrow, Mr Milburn will say: "This has to be a society based on worth, not birth, where the barriers that hold people back are banished forever. In the 20th century, Britain was held back by class. In the 21st century, if the country is to succeed, it has to consign the old class system to the history books."

A major theme in Labour's manifesto will be a commitment to eradicate poverty and inequality and enhance personal ambition and aspiration. Labour hopes it will appeal to progressive voters, many of whom are threatening to abandon Mr Blair because of the Iraq war, and working-class supporters who feel he has devoted too much energy on wooing the middle classes.

The manifesto will restate Labour's pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 and abolish it by 2012 and announce new measures to help achieve it. These include a firm commitment to increase the national minimum wage and tax credits for children and pensioners and in effect raise the school leaving age to 18 by ensuring all 16 to 18-year-olds are either in education or training, with "staying on" allowances of up to £75 a week.

Tributes continued to pour in for Lord Callaghan, the former Labour prime minister, who died on Saturday aged 92, 11 days after his wife, Audrey. A former Inland Revenue clerk, he became a trade union official and rose to the position of chancellor of the exchequer, home secretary and foreign secretary before entering 10 Downing Street in 1976. He was the last prominent Labour politician to emerge from the trade union movement.