Labour's vision of shares for all workers

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Indy Politics
DONALD MACINTYRE

Political Editor

Labour will today project itself as the party of wider share ownership, in an attempt to outflank the Government after clashing with union leaders over the meaning of Tony Blair's commitment to a "stakeholder economy".

In a keynote speech, Alistair Darling, the party's City spokesman, will unveil moves to encourage employee share ownership and will argue that individual share ownership has declined under Tory rule.

The attempt by the party to redefine its attitude to private shareholding came as the leadership disassociated itself from trade union suggestions that "stakeholding" would require new laws on workers' rights.

Tory leaders seized on remarks by John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB general union, in which he said workers needed new rights to deal with insecurity, the ease with which they can be sacked and their lack of information about company policy. Mr Edmonds said on BBC Radio: "There will be even more need under a stakeholder economy for trade union support, to ensure those individual rights are properly implemented."

But Brian Mawhinney, the Tory chairman, said Mr Edmonds' remarks, and an earlier newspaper article by John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, emphasising the unions' role as "stakeholders", showed that Mr Blair was seeking to turn the clock back to union control.

Dr Mawhinney said Labour's new theme amounted "a deal under which Labour's old friends in the trade union movement would get back all the power and privileges they abused in the 1970s".

Labour strategists are convinced that Mr Darling's speech and one Mr Blair will make in Derby tonight will help to shift the debate onto a different, distinctly "New Labour" agenda.

John Redwood last night made the most detailed attack on Labour's possible agenda for the "stakeholder economy", challenging Tony Blair to reveal whether it would mean requiring companies to provide a place on the board for trade unions and cut dividends to enforce investment. Mr Redwood, the past challenger for the Tory leadership, warned that the concept - borrowed from Will Hutton, Ecomomics Editor of The Guardian - would mean "mugging savings" by cutting dividends. He also challenged Mr Blair to say whether he would rejoin the European exchange rate mechanism..

Mr Darling will emphasis the role employee share ownership can play in motivating the workforce. He will argue that the proportion of shares held by individuals decreased from 20 per cent in 1981 to 18 per cent in 1993 and announce a new advisory group to work out ways of extending employee share ownership. He will say Labour envisages a world in which employee share ownership will be seen as "not an optional extra, not as something unusual but as the norm in our dynamic economy".

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, attacked the Labour initiative as "empty flannel". He said: "It is waffle. It is devoid of any sensible meaning."

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