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Britain's Left Takes New Role: Guardian Of the Pocketbook

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BRITAIN'S revamped Labour Party is out to prove that the customer is always right.

Only 48 hours after Labour voted to abandon its long-held Marxist commitment to nationalize industry on April 29, the party shifted from jealously guarding the rights of the working class to guarding spare change in the household pocketbook.

Sensing the weakness of Prime Minister John Major's Conservative government, Labour leader Tony Blair is promising to do battle on behalf of consumers: Labour researchers say they have endured hard times in a free-for-all market economy, engineered by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Labour's youthful leader, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown, one of his top lieutenants, unveiled the new strategy on the eve of local elections May 4 in England and Wales, in which the ruling Conservatives are widely forecast to do poorly.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown declared that for the past 15 years, millions of consumers had been exploited by banks, loan and insurance companies, and privatized utilities.

These agencies, Brown said, had been allowed to operate in a largely unregulated commercial environment. If Labour wins the next national elections coming within the next two years, Blair would try to encourage a kinder, gentler market: Companies lending money or selling other financial services would have to publish ''league tables'' giving customers full price, cost, and performance comparisons, Brown said.

In the last two or three years, trading banks have been widely criticized for making excessive profits. A series of highly publicized cases showed that insurance companies have misled customers about retirement pension rights.


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