David Cameron has said the Conservative Party is in favour of redistributing wealth in another significant move on to Labour's natural territory.
The Tory leader endorsed his policy chief Oliver Letwin, who angered the party's traditionalists last December by saying he supported redistribution to try to narrow the gap between rich and poor.
"He was saying something that was blindingly obvious: any party that accepts some sort of progressive tax system is in favour of redistribution. That's a very sensible thing to say," Mr Cameron told New Statesman magazine.
Although Labour has redistributed wealth since 1997, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been reluctant to use "the r-word" for fear of upsetting middle-class voters.
In his interview, Mr Cameron balanced his comments by echoing Mr Blair's statement in 2001 that it was, "not a burning ambition for me to make sure that David Beckham earns less money".
Mr Cameron said: "My view is that the greatest concern we should have is not the gap between David Beckham's wages on the one hand, and someone on benefits on the other. I don't think making the top 1 per cent richest poorer makes the 10 per cent poorest richer."
His remarks about redistribution will worry Tory right-wingers, already alarmed that Mr Cameron has watered down the party's traditional commitment to tax cuts. Tory advisers believe the party will not win voters' trust on public services if it appears obsessed with lower taxes.
Mr Cameron also urged his party to end its verbal attacks on public servants.
"The war is over," he said. "There's been a war of words about waste and bureaucracy from the right, which sometimes has given an impression that we don't value public service, when we do." Mr Cameron said that what was needed was to trust professionals to deliver local public services. "There's a great ethos of public service in this country and that is something to be celebrated and nurtured and learned from."
The Tory leader pledged to ensure "equality for everyone" in the provision of public services. Citing the example of his son Ivan, who was born with cerebral palsy, he said: "In London we get several nights a week of care; you move to another part of the country, you get several hours of care a week. What there ought to be for families with disabled children is a sense of what your entitlement is if you're helping to look after a disabled child."
Hinting at a new approach to foreign policy, Mr Cameron said: "I'm a combination of someone who has that Conservative, practical, slightly sceptical questioning approach to international affairs, but with a good dose of liberal internationalism."
His professed commitment to redistribution drew a sceptical response from the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society. "The Conservatives are torn - tempted by the language of equality but fearing the consequences," said Sunder Katwala, the society's general secretary. "Their public conversion to social justice is very welcome, yet they remain wedded to the idea that the state is always the problem. As they sign up to the goal of ending child poverty, where are their policies?"
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