Tony Blair's first day: Reassurance for middle class on tax: Tony Blair's first day: A Labour government will listen to unions but there will be 'no favours'

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR, on his first day as Labour leader, yesterday moved to reassure middle-income Britain over tax - while pledging that the 'beer and sandwiches' days of union power over Labour governments was over.

In his clearest statement that the unions would not enjoy the influence they had in the 1970s, Mr Blair said 'we are not running the Labour government for anything other than the people of this country'. He added on BBC Radio 2's Jimmy Young Programme: 'In my view trade unions are an important part of our democracy - but fairness, not favours, is the way we are going to run things.' Mr Blair insisted unions would be 'listened to' and not 'shut out in the cold'. But his remarks underline that he has no intention of returning to the climate in which union leaders were closely involved in economic and social policy-making.

Mr Blair said he did not want to add to the load of 'middle- and average-income Britain which had seen their taxes rise under the Tories, who have loaded them with new taxes'.

He said: 'There are now three times as many people in the top-rate tax bracket as there used to be. The Conservatives have hugely extended the range (so) you get primary school teachers, police officers, middle managers paying top-rate tax.'

These were not the 'super- rich', he said, who 'could end up paying virtually no tax or can use offshore trusts or tax shelters not to pay their fair share. That is what we tackle first.' But Mr Blair refused to be drawn on detailed plans, saying even in an election it would be 'foolish' to write the first Labour budget.

Parrying questions about whether he would introduce a new higher rate of tax or raise the current threshold, he denied that he had given any indications on his plans. He had merely pointed out that only those earning more than pounds 64,000 a year were paying less tax under the Tories.

Mr Blair has summoned Shadow Cabinet members to a special conference in September as part of the continued development of policy over the winter.

Labour will legislate for a Scottish parliament in its first year of power, Mr Blair pledges in an interview with the newspaper Scotland Today.

'The parliament will have clearly defined economic powers and power to legislate on Scottish domestic affairs,' he says. Mr Blair said the exact details were now being worked out by a team headed by the shadow Scottish secretary, George Robertson.