New Labour's substance is more radical than its rhetoric

Roy Hattersley ("Up and down the social ladder", 22 January) worked steadily, mostly enthusiastically, and always loyally for the Labour Party through 40 years of acrimonious discussion. Today, in calmer waters, he is alarmed at what he fears is the hijacking of his beloved party by some Blairite upstarts.

I, too, though with much less dedication, stuck with the Labour Party through thick and thin, often having to call deeply on reserves of loyalty rather than reason, especially when having to sign up to the manifesto of 1983. Today, I stand as a (nearly) fully committed supporter of the Blair project.

Roy concentrates too much on the rhetoric of new Labour and not enough on its substance. The spin-doctors use language that appeals to the floating voters of the Daily Mail who like to be seen as middle class, self-reliant and tough on crime. Roy knows as well as anybody that Labour needs some votes from this group if it is to win again.

But the substance of new Labour's policy is much more radical. Blair, with assistance from Gordon Brown, has embarked on a remarkable programme of reform, including:

- A constitution which had remained unchanged for nearly 300 years has been dramatically redefined following Scottish and Welsh devolution.

- The Prime Minister may be on the verge of settling a 900-year dispute with the Irish.

- Although there is an obvious need to rethink the objectives of the welfare state, including the deeply flawed concept of universal benefit, new Labour has already, through tax and benefit reforms, redistributed £8 billion from the rich to the poor.

- On 1 May there will be a statutory minimum wage, something previous Labour governments never considered.

No doubt on some of these matters Roy may not be as enthusiastic as I would like, but I cannot believe that there is much between us. Like him, I would like to do away with private education, but issues of liberty, choice and political reality rule out such an option. We can agree, too, on the shortcomings of school league tables and performance-measurement gimmicks - they don't even work in business, producing corrupt, unfair outcomes which constantly undermine good corporate governance.

New Labour's spin-doctors choose to play down these radical programmes for fear of frightening those who browse through the Daily Mail and the Sun. They accept Galbraith's "culture of contentment" which assumes that, in future, elections will be won by the affluent, contented majority at the expense of the poor minority. I suspect that if the spinners were to ask the question, they would be pleasantly surprised by the extent of the contented majority's concern over poverty and injustice.

There remains, however, one vital area of policy - foreign affairs - where rhetoric prevails over substance. The continuing delusion of a special relationship between Britain and the United States leads to unnecessary commitments to some bizarre American foreign policy initiatives.

Worse still, the torrents of Europhobia spat out by much of the British press, at the behest of their foreign proprietors, leads the spin-doctors to inhibit any serious discussion about Britain's future relationship with the European Union.

On this last matter, Roy and I are in full agreement. I suspect that Tony Blair, too, is on our side, because he must know that if he does not win the European debate his whole project could be jeopardised. The peace and prosperity which Europe offers to the citizens of Britain is an essential part of the new Labour project.

Christopher Haskins, Chairman, Northern Foods
Hull