'Manifesto' Tells British What a 'New' Labour Party Would Do
Labour Party leader Tony Blair has produced what he hopes will be the blueprint for ending 17 years of Conservative Party rule in Britain.
Mr. Blair says the 10,000-word document, "The Road to the Manifesto," released yesterday, will be the "bricks and mortar" of the policies the party he likes to call "New Labour" will present to voters.
Under the British parliamentary system, the government must hold an election no later than May 1997. Conservatives cling to a single vote majority in Parliament, and Prime Minister John Major is the least popular leader since opinion polls have been taken in Britain.
Thus the Labour document, which could see some changes before it is ratified by party members in the fall, very likely could be a preview of what a new Labour government would do in power.
But Blair's determination, expressed in the document, to replace such longstanding Labour doctrines as state ownership of industry and unconditional support for the welfare state with more moderate, flexible policies is sparking opposition from Labour's left wing.
In an attempt to outmaneuver his opponents, Blair will ask all 350,000 rank-and-file party members to vote on the document. If, as most analysts expect, Blair receives an overwhelming "yes," Labour will enter the election campaign with a set of policies vastly different from those that it has espoused during four general election defeats since 1979.
In a sharp departure from Labour's traditional interventionist philosophy, the document favors only "limited and specific" involvement of government in industry "where it is in the public interest for business and government to co-operate." It pledges prudent financial management, demand curbs on trade union power, and accepts many of the Conservatives' changes to the national health service.
Other provisions include:
*An attack on crime, especially juvenile crime.
*A job-creation plan for the young unemployed, possibly through a tax on newly privatized industries.
*Cutting classes sizes to fewer than 30 pupils in early grades.
*Holding down spending on welfare and using the savings to create jobs for the unemployed.
Blair, once a militant opponent of nuclear weapons, now says he would be "prepared to push the button" and unleash Britain's nuclear missiles in a crisis.
Such sentiments prompted Labour left-wingers to attack the new policies. Tony Benn, a former Labour minister and the most prominent of Blair's radical critics, issued a statement asking Blair to support 20 "traditional" Labour policies, including homes and jobs for all, a minimum wage, and cancellation of the Trident missile submarine program.
Other radicals assailed Blair personally for failing to consult widely in the party before publishing the new manifesto. Ken Livingstone, a left-wing Labour member of Parliament, said there has been "no consultation at all."
"A small group of bright young things in the leader's office have concocted a set of bland policies which we won't be allowed to amend," Mr. Livingstone said.
In response, Blair charged yesterday that these critics were "people who do not want Labour to change," the very people who "were responsible for Labour's lowest position in the 1980s." The new policy document was being issued, an aide to Blair said, because the Labour leader "wants to persuade voters that there are not merely reasons for not voting Tory, but also good reasons for voting Labour."
Earlier this week, in anticipation of the new Labour policy document, Prime Minister Major gave his youthful opponent "the biggest endorsement [Blair] could have wished for," according to leading political analyst Peter Riddell. Major tossed overboard his party's existing electoral strategy. Replacing it was a new battle plan backed by L10 million ($15.5 million) in Conservative Party funds for a campaign stressing the "dangers" of Labour.
Blair quickly dismissed the Tories' strategy switch as "another sign that this is a bankrupt government which does not know what to do."
Instead of attacking Blair for stealing their ideas, as in the past two years, Conservatives plan to charge that Labour's policies would place Britain in peril.
Conservative Party chairman Brian Mawhinney says an advertising campaign under the slogan "New Labour, New Dangers," will pinpoint Labour's support for issues such as European unity, a minimum wage, and a formal, written constitution.
Over the next three months, billboards, TV spots, and newspaper advertisements will highlight each of these "dangers."
Mr. Riddell says the Conservatives' switch of strategy shows that "at last they have begun to take Tony Blair seriously."