Populist Blair uses tabloid tactics in tax propaganda war

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR celebrated his return to the political fray yesterday with a 'bloke- next-door' performance for a Rupert Murdoch newspaper aimed at establishing that Labour will not penalise success with big tax rises.

Mr Blair was filling in for the one-time Labour MP Woodrow Wyatt, now an irascible and anti-Labour columnist in the News of the World.

Under the headline 'No pain for those who gain on merit', the carefully crafted package appeared aimed at every political soft spot in the electorate to which Mr Blair hopes to appeal.

Younger readers were reassured by Mr Blair's grasp of sport, a piece on drugs highlighting 'hero' Linford Christie, while delivering the sophisticate's message that Mr Blair holidays in France, and the pro-Europe message that Linford's gold medals were celebrated on the front page of many newspapers there. 'He is a hero for millions throughout Europe,' Mr Blair notes. The fairness in 'freedom and fairness' comes through with Mr Blair attacking the 'stupidity' of those who take drugs, causing heartbreak for honest athletes striving to break new records, while bringing shame on world athletics.

On a similar theme, Jurgen Klinsmann is said to be doing more for Anglo-German relations than all the summit meetings of heads of government put together - 'and a darn sight more interesting to watch as well' - while for a slightly older generation Mr Blair recalls his days as a hairy rocker in his university band Ugly Rumours. The band done well, we learn; its drummer is now a merchant banker, its guitarist at the Treasury, it bass player editing the rock magazine Q, while its singer - well he has ended up as leader of the Labour Party.

Education, another Blair priority, is given an airing, along with the tit-bit that he knows that teenagers' favourite magazine is Smash Hits, while the fact that Mr Blair isn't too young and is a family man is underlined both by the revelation that he took O-levels not GCSEs and that having played soccer with his boys 'throughout the holidays' and priding himself on his fitness he has had 'a humiliating reminder of being over 40' by wrenching his back playing table football. A little like Harold Wilson's public pipe but private cigars, Mr Blair here plays football in public but tennis in private.

Crime is given a run through the successful story of a Labour council's scheme to get a local community force to patrol housing estates and old people's homes at night and call in the police if they see trouble - working with the police as opposed to attempting to substitute for them as Tory-controlled Wandsworth plans.

But the main theme of the main piece - and each of the five subsidiary ones - is the healthy message that Labour believes in success. 'We'll not hit successful folk with big tax rises,' a sub-head reads, Mr Blair opening up with the words 'I believe in a society where you get where you are on your own merit, not one based on privilege or who you know . . . when we reward hard work we will get more of it. And if someone goes on to become wealthy, best of luck to them.' He adds: 'I came into politics to fight against injustice and poverty, not wealth.'

That does, not of, course, make him in favour of abuse such as 'six-figure salaries for three-day weeks' for the chairmen of privatised utilities, or being able to pay no tax by employing the right accountants.