Smith pledges to create jobs: Donald Macintyre reports on the Labour leader's strategy for Britain's revival

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The Independent Online
A LABOUR government had the power 'to defeat mass unemployment in this country', and banish the prevalent insecurity about jobs, John Smith pledged at a rally in Birmingham yesterday.

In a speech defining a new theme for the mid-term electoral season, the Labour leader accused the Government of having 'decimated' Britain's manufacturing base. And he promised that with investment, training, incentives to employers and a full employment strategy a Labour government would 'give working people the job security they need and deserve'.

In terms designed to highlight continuing job fears among erstwhile Tory supporters, Mr Smith contrasted the 4 per cent growth of UK manufacturing output since 1979 with that of Japan (50 per cent), the United States (32 per cent) and Germany (23 per cent). Manufacturing investment was one-third below - in real terms - than when Labour lost office.

Promising that the next general election 'can be won for Labour here in the West Midlands', Mr Smith cited as part of his party's jobs programme: a new environmental task force of young people 'set to work cleaning up our towns and countryside; National Insurance contribution waivers for employers hiring long-term jobless, and a national energy efficiency insulation scheme'. And he said the 'most common sense idea of all' was to allow local authorities to spend their accumulated capital receipts from council house sales on a national programme of job-intensive house building'.

The Labour leader said that the party's policy for better jobs protection and a national minimum wage would also benefit taxpayers - because it was they who subsidised bad employers when workers had to claim social security benefits to secure a living income. He said Britain's manufacturing base was 'the most important wealth creator in the economy', yet nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs had been lost during the Conservative years.

His call for a new compact with the electorate on jobs came at the launch of Red Rose week, a campaign designed to boost Labour Party membership which, despite its powerful poll showing last year, slumped to just over 250,000 - its lowest level since 1929. The Labour leader said that he wanted more supporters 'from all walks of life' to join the party.

Mr Smith attacked the Government for taking a 'negative, grudging, unambitious' view of Europe in the current row over qualified majority voting. He declared that the British people were the losers in a 'nauseating power struggle' in which 'John Major's Cabinet colleagues - the ones who keep popping up pledging their undying loyalty to the Prime Minister - are all now pandering to the Euro- sceptics, talking tough on Europe, putting ambition before principle in their unseemly scramble for the keys to Number 10'.

Mr Smith said that the Government was 'totally out of step' with such countries as France, Germany, America and Japan, whose governments were playing a leading role in their industrial development. They were 'busy identifying the industries, trends and opportunities of tomorrow'.

Labour's health spokesman, David Blunkett, claimed yesterday that NHS dentistry is 'seeping into the sand' as patients were being removed from dentists' lists and encouraged to use private practices.

The claims were made as Labour predicted that the Government is poised to announce the end of the comprehensive dental service - amid reports that ministers are to increase charges by 25 per cent for most adults.

Mr Blunkett warned that all patients - except the poor, children and pregnant women - would have to pay the full cost of dental treatment, instead of the present 80 per cent.