'Save and invest, not tax and spend'

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Indy Politics
Tony Blair yesterday gave the most explicit pledge yet that a future Labour government would control public spending tightly and avoid penal rates of taxation.

On the eve of publication of the party's Road to the Manifesto programme, he promised that Labour's policy in power would be "save and invest, not tax and spend".

Addressing business leaders at the annual British Chambers of Commerce conference in Birmingham, Mr Blair said: "We will make it clear tomorrow that there can be no question of a short-term dash for growth. We want sustainable, non-inflationary growth and we will set and hold to an explicit low target for inflation."

The Labour leader also pledged that there would be no return to the "penal" tax rates of the 1970s. "Indeed, we must have a tax system that is internationally competitive and fair, and which encourages savings, investment, work and opportunity."

In a show of hands after his speech, the 300 business leaders voted by a ratio of 20 to 1 that Mr Blair would be the next prime minister.

At the heart of Labour's programme in government would be reform of the welfare system, Mr Blair said. The aim would be to reduce the proportion of public spending on the benefits bill and on education.

He sought again to reassure business worries about the costs of signing the European Social Chapter. He said a Labour government "will insist that any new measure adopted under the Social Chapter promotes fairness, not inflexibility".

Earlier, Mr Blair was attacked by John McAllion, who resigned last week over the Labour leader's U-turn on referendums on Scottish and Welsh devolution. Mr McAllion broadened his criticism of Mr Blair, complaining that the pre-manifesto would not commit a Labour government to raise the state pension.