Straw condemns monarchy as deeply decadent

THE MONARCHY was a 'deeply decadent' system financed by the taxpayer, Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, said in an interview for today's issue of Tribune.

But the return of Mr Straw to the controversy over the Royal Family was accompanied by a statement that will provoke even more surprise inside his own party: an official acceptance that council tax and compulsory competitive tendering would be maintained by a Labour government.

Mr Straw caused a stir on Labour's front bench last month when he likened royalty to a soap opera with no serious future and called for a more informal Scandinavian-style monarchy.

He told Tribune he had reached that conclusion after reading Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story, which he called 'a remarkably subversive document that exposes a deeply decadent and detached system for which we're all paying'.

He added: 'It hadn't occurred to me before that the royals were at the apex of a separate society of extremely rich people.'

Mr Straw said last night that he had been surprised by the number of Tory MPs who had told him, privately, that they agreed with his earlier remarks.

It was also significant, he added, that the Conservatives had made no attempt to exploit his views in Prime Minister's Question Time; suggesting that they did not feel there was any political mileage in the issue for them.

As for Labour's attitude to the council tax and compulsory competitive tendering (CCT), Mr Straw said they would both be retained by a Labour government.

'The underlying principle of council tax is OK - it's a property tax. But some of its practice is bad. We'll be working out how it can be changed so that it becomes much more like what we wanted in the fair rates system.'

Last year's Labour manifesto promised to replace the poll tax with an updated version of the rating system, which was abolished by the Tories. It rejected the council tax, which takes effect from April, as 'a property poll tax'.

The manifesto also said: 'Compulsory competitive tendering (CCT) will be abolished, but the quality commission will have the power, where services have broken down, to insist that they are put out to tender, with contractors required to meet conditions such as quality thresholds and fair employment.'

But Mr Straw told Tribune that CCT had delivered 'sensible' divisions between contractors and councils, and clear definitions of the services to be delivered. 'But while I have seen the case for CCT for the provision of basic services such as refuse collection, I'm very sceptical about using it for core management functions.'

Mr Straw is working on a revision of Clause 4 of his party's constitution, which deals with public ownership. That review did not make him a traitor, he said.

He passionately believed in public ownership, but he added: 'We have to develop a much deeper analysis of the defects of free markets. What I want to do is to stimulate a debate about ideology, and Clause 4 is at the heart of the argument about what the party stands for.'

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