Letter: New Labour in Europe

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Sir: Roy Hattersley, as a long-standing Labour Party member, is concerned about growing inequality and this government's lack of commitment to its amelioration ("Labour's mission is power, not the poor", 30 July).

He is right to be concerned about the state of this country. Inequality has grown faster here than in any OECD country. Per capita income in the poorer regions of the UK is half that of some EU regions ie on a par with subsistence peasant economies of parts of southern Europe.

Lord Dahrendorf has pointed out that many people in work in Britain are poorer than the unemployed in much of northern Europe. New Labour's notions of inclusiveness can only be theoretical in this context. South Korean inward investment in South Wales, lauded by William Hague when Secretary of State, produces manufacturing jobs paying half that of a German shop assistant - and this government seems to be continuing with these palliatives.

In addition they are reliant on public services vastly inferior to those of their German counterparts. With such a large proportion of the UK workforce on very low salaries the Government expects them to make private pension provision.

Throughout the EU the redistributive character of progressive income tax is accepted, together with the state's responsibility to provide good- quality public services. Unfortunately, the policies we have been following are those of the US, which does not accept these values. The EU average for what the state absorbs of national GDP is 50 per cent; it is 30 per cent in the US, while in the UK it is 40 per cent, falling to 38 per cent over the next two years.

I applaud the Government's stance that good-quality education be put at the top of the political agenda but this can reduce inequality only in the very long term. I also recognise that the British public is not yet psychologically prepared to accept higher tax rates. Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of government to lead public opinion, not to follow it.

General de Gaulle said that the British were not Europeans. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will have to decide whether in fact we are.


London SW6