Power for a Purpose

2005: General election year - As Tony Blair heads for a third election campaign as Labour Party lead

Foreword by Tony Blair

Labour stands on the threshold of a historic third successive term of office. With your support, we can do what the party has never done before. An election victory would help us embed a social-democratic future for Britain, turning the 21st century into a centre-left century, as the 20th belonged to conservatism.

Power means nothing unless it is used for a purpose and with principle. Much of our first term was spent proving our credentials as a responsible government and careful economic manager. The second term was dominated by the war in Iraq, at the expense of much else. We pledge to use our third term to do what Labour administrations are supposed to do: make Britain a fairer and more just society, combining enterprise with equality, security with liberty, and responsibilities with rights. This quest also extends beyond our shores, where we will pursue a truly ethical foreign policy. We will temper our determination to protect Britain from terrorist attack with action to tackle some of its causes and with respect for the basic tenets of civil liberties.

We will push hard for stronger action on global warming, leading by example at home. We will continue our reforms of public services, so that they remain universal in scope but focus more on those in greatest need. Most of all, we will renew our original commitment to a more modern and clean type of politics, ensuring that after all the doubts we really do deserve the nation's trust.

Ten pledges for a third term:

1 Long-term economic stability

2 Fairness through taxation

3 Public services for the people

4 Schools that can achieve high standards for all children

5 Achieving a proper balance between work and family

6 Security balanced with liberty

7 A truly ethical foreign policy

8 A truly pro-European policy

9 Action to protect against global warming

10 A truly new kind of politics

A strong economy and a fairer society

Over the past eight years, led by Gordon Brown, the UK has enjoyed high growth combined with low inflation, low unemployment and low interest rates. But a strong economy is not an end in itself. This government pledged that wealth and assets should be for the many and not the few. Unfortunately, despite the introduction of the national minimum wage and of tax credits tailored to the poorest in the community, inequality has, if anything, increased. Between 1991 and 2001, the percentage of wealth held by the richest 10 per cent of the population increased from 47 per cent to 56 per cent. Almost a third of total wealth in Britain is owned by just 2 per cent of the population.

Our pledge not to increase the basic and top rates of tax showed that we were a new political force no longer wedded to old maxims of tax and spend. Now that we have established those credentials, we can look more imaginatively at tax issues.

We reaffirm our commitment, for a third successive election, to no rise in the basic rate of tax. However, we will look again at the top rate, which incorporates both multimillionaires and medium-ranking teachers and police officers. We believe the top rate should increase to 50 per cent on incomes above £100,000. That figure will rise each year in line with average wage increases. At the same time, we will reduce the threshold at which the top rate begins, taking tens of thousands of hard-working families on modest incomes out of that band. We will also take more people out of the 22 per cent basic rate, if public finances allow. Inequality, poverty and social exclusion divide society. They increase crime and antisocial behaviour. They are in nobody's interest.

Inheritance tax will also be reformed. Instead of the single rate of 40 per cent for all estates above a certain threshold (currently set at £263,000), we will introduce banding rates similar to income tax: 22, 40 and 50 per cent. As a result, nine estates in ten will pay less to the Exchequer, allowing ordinary, hard-working families to pass more of their wealth on to their children.

Security and liberty

Since the terrible events of 11 September 2001, anti-terrorist legislation has been essential. However, we commit ourselves to assessing the civil liberties implications of existing law and future changes. We accept that the provisions under which foreign nationals have been held without charge in Belmarsh have breached basic human rights. We will charge those we suspect of being in violation of the law and release those we do not.

The government also accepts that trust in the veracity of its statements on threats to our security has broken down. In order to ensure the credibility of intelligence assessments, we will introduce a Commission on Intelligence Assessments, comprising retired judges, diplomats, intelligence chiefs and police chiefs to check government statements on terrorist threats at home and abroad, before they are released to the public. Though much of its work will necessarily be confidential, it will be asked to issue an annual written report and to account for its work to parliament.

We will press ahead with our plans for a national identity card scheme. However, we will audit its use, checking whether particular groups in society have been disproportionately affected, and review the situation two years after its full introduction.

We will publish draft legislation providing further protection for witnesses in criminal trials and further assistance to victims of crime. However, we will not pursue plans to remove trial by jury, believing that such a step would undermine confidence in the fairness of our criminal justice system.

We will continue our emphasis on tackling antisocial behaviour. In particular, we will legislate to make pubs, clubs, wine bars and other licensed outlets financially liable for violence close to their premises. We will press ahead with plans to deregulate opening hours, but require local authorities to make licences contingent on their emphasis on responsible drinking. We will abandon all plans to increase gambling in the UK.

A truly ethical foreign policy

For more than a decade, the world has been dominated by one superpower, the United States. Given its unique relationship with the US, Britain has found itself in a privileged and important position. Our membership of the UN Security Council, the EU, Nato, the Commonwealth and the G8 has reinforced this. In its first six years, this government committed British forces to military action five times, a record in modern history. This government passionately believes in the duty of the international community to intervene to secure democratic and equitable outcomes, promoting human rights and the rule of law around the world. In order to do so, we need to lead by example and ensure that war is a last resort, backed by international organisations, notably the UN. Regrettably, we did not achieve this in the case of Iraq. To restore the credibility of the government's humanitarian agenda, we resolve that before any future military action, parliament should receive accurate summaries of the intelligence and legal advice offered to ministers. We will introduce legislation requiring future governments to gain full parliamentary approval for military action.

We value our close relations with the US. However, we recognise that we are entering a multi-polar world in which China, India and a united Europe will play a leading role. We will treat as a priority the improvement of relations with France and Germany. We support moves to reform the UN and will develop proposals to increase the number of permanent members of the UN Security Council to ten, while ensuring that a veto can be invoked only if at least two members support it.

In the first months of 2005, we used our chairmanship of the G8 to lead the assault on global poverty. Our Africa Commission has moved ahead on debt write-offs. But we must go much further. We believe there should be an ethical dimension to our foreign and trade policies. In Europe, we shall press for the removal of all tariff barriers to developing countries selling their food and raw materials here. We shall also phase out government subsidies to the arms industry through the Export Credits Guarantee Department, as alternative work for the industry's employees becomes available. Where arms sales continue, we pledge to toughen the criteria for the grant of export licences, which we originally introduced in 1997. We will introduce an annual ethical audit of our foreign policy, to be published by a joint panel of government officials and outside experts.

Coming off the fence on Europe

The European Union accounts for more than half our trade. Culturally and politically, we are closer to our Continental partners than at any time in recent history. All too often, our actions and rhetoric do not reflect this reality. In 1997, we pledged a radical change in our approach, but the results have been disappointing. In a third term, this government pledges to tackle Euroscepticism in all its manifestations. Our secret deal with Rupert Murdoch has run its course. We will no longer make government policy contingent on the views of a single media magnate.

We will devote considerable resources and energy to the referendum on the EU constitution, which will take place in the first six months of 2006. Cabinet ministers will be required to campaign vigorously and will be judged by their commitment. There will, however, be no change to our policy on the euro. The five economic tests will remain in place, and the assessment of the extent to which they are met will be an annual event.

Setting a green example

The environment will be one of our biggest focuses for the third term. Though we remain on course to meet our Kyoto commitment to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 12.5 per cent by 2012, progress has been slower than we had expected. We will step up the pace, introducing measures to promote a low-carbon economy. We will pledge an annual increase in the climate-change levy, to double it over the next five years. Rises will be matched by cuts in National Insurance contributions for the environmentally best-performing companies. Extra funding will be provided for the Carbon Trust to provide advice to businesses about energy-efficiency programmes.

Environmental improvements to existing housing stock will be rewarded with a 50 per cent cut in stamp duty. We also propose regulations requiring Scandinavian-style energy-efficiency standards for all new buildings and a target of zero net emissions from new buildings by 2015.

Public transport is the other main area of neglect in recent years. We will build into our assessments of major public transport projects the assumption that they should take place for the public good. We will take a more neutral approach to road-building, balancing gains for drivers against potential environmental or social damage.

We are not anti-car. We do, however, seek to ensure that car use is sustainable and responsible and that its costs are more closely geared to its environmental and social effects. We will phase out vehicle excise duty, retaining it only for the most polluting vehicles. The London congestion charge scheme has been a resounding success. We thank the mayor, Ken Livingstone, for setting the example and apologise to him for our past efforts to prevent him from securing the post. We believe the scheme should be encouraged across the country and ultimately, as the Commission for Integrated Transport has proposed and as technology permits, all road use should be costed and charged for, according to the location and timing of car journeys. In addition, local authorities will be required by 2010 to introduce an extra daily charge on SUV vehicles entering urban areas. Money accrued from all road-user charges will be dedicated to improving public transport.

Public services for the people

Society is growing increasingly comfortable with a flexible approach to public construction projects and the delivery of public services. We accept, however, that our approach in recent years, particularly in our 2001 manifesto, may have been too dogmatic. We need more rigorous assessments of whether public-private schemes give value for money. In future, all public-private projects will be subject to independent examination by official audit bodies before they are undertaken.

Health

Thanks to the historic increase in funding, we believe that over the past few years confidence has returned to the NHS. Waiting times have been slashed, while a record number of new hospitals and departments has been built. NHS Direct has proved popular and effective. The right to choose doctors and hospitals for treatment is gradually being accepted. We reaffirm our pledge that by 2008 patients will be able to choose any hospital. We will continue our policy of buying in treatment from any provider, whether public or private, to plug gaps. We will monitor more closely the standards of private health companies to ensure that they serve the broader community. We will allow the foundation hospitals that have been created to establish themselves, but we will postpone the extension of the scheme until it has proved its worth.

Public health is one of the areas of greatest inequality in British society. A more interventionist approach is not a "nanny-state" approach, but a matter of equity. We will monitor the new restrictions on smoking in bars and other public places. If progress in cutting passive smoking is slow, we will look at an outright ban on smoking in public places. We are committed to cutting smoking by 5 per cent to 21 per cent by 2010. We seek a further 5 per cent cut by 2020. We will similarly monitor new curbs on "junk food" advertising, with emphasis on tougher enforcement if they do not work.

Education

We recognise that, as shown in the latest international studies, countries that can achieve a balanced social mix in all their schools get the best results for all their children. We will therefore adopt policies that encourage parents to send their children to local authority schools, and work towards the end of hierarchies of schools within the state sector. Except in rural areas, all schools will be required to opt for "specialist status", giving parents a genuine choice. But provision for them to select some of their pupils will be abolished. We shall not proceed further with city academies and will use financial incentives to persuade grammar schools to adopt "specialist status" consistent with their traditions, but without selection. Catchment areas will be abolished and parents will be free to apply to any school within reasonable travelling distance of their home, with transport provided free of charge where necessary. Where a school has more applicants than it can accommodate, the matter will be decided by lottery.

The Charities Bill will require private schools to demonstrate "public benefit" to retain charitable status, with its tax advantages. We commit ourselves to going further. Financial incentives will be offered to the schools to assume "specialist status" within the local authority sector, but without selection of pupils.

We shall continue with our policies to ensure that universities admit a higher proportion of children from local authority schools, and particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Skills, assets and opportunities

Reports show that social mobility has fallen in recent years, in spite of our efforts to promote greater access to education and skills for the disadvantaged. We pledge to do much more. We are already committed to extending child benefit to 16- to 19-year-olds in work-based training. We will look at ways of encouraging more training schemes and on-the-job training in unemployment black spots. We will establish a new Community Learning Service to co-ordinate the work of the many different local providers of learning opportunities. Inequalities in assets are considerably greater than inequalities in income. We will expand our child trust fund, granting additional investments for children from low-income backgrounds.

The national minimum wage has so far been increased at a rate well above inflation. We will amend the legislation to provide a minimum increase each year in line with the rise in inflation or the rise in average wages, whichever is the higher. By 2010, 20- and 21-year-olds will receive the same rate as those aged 22-plus.

As part of our ten-year childcare strategy, we are committed to expansion of "wrap-around" children's centres to 3,500 by 2010, providing parents with the option of affordable, schools-based care from 8am to 6pm. However, we believe parental care should be encouraged wherever possible. We are committed to extending maternity leave to nine months in 2007. Our target is for 12 months' maternity leave by the end of the parliament, a portion of which can be transferred to the father. We will investigate ways of providing further encouragement to companies to provide flexible, part-time, family-friendly working patterns for employees.

Pensions and welfare

Pensions provide possibly the most difficult long-term problem for policy-makers. We will invite the other main political parties to join a cross-party standing commission on pensions to provide continuity and consensus on future reforms. We reaffirm our principled support for pension credits, ensuring that those in greatest need receive the greatest support.

We accept that the rising numbers claiming incapacity benefit represent a form of hidden unemployment. We shall take steps to offer more skills training and counselling to those drawing the benefit and to create more employment opportunities in areas of the UK where jobs are hardest to find.

Corporate governance

We continue our commitment to encourage innovation and small businesses. We will continue with low rates of corporation tax, but will pursue more vigorously those multinationals that at present pay nothing. We will investigate how we can introduce tax incentives to employers to act ethically in their treatment of staff and approach to the local community. We will require all companies with more than 250 staff to issue an annual social and environmental report.

We pledge that our Corporate Manslaughter Bill will be one of our top priorities and will reach the statute book by 2007. We also pledge to review its implementation within two years to assess whether enough has been done to make companies and employers accountable for worker and customer deaths.

New politics

When Labour came to power in 1997 we promised a new kind of politics. Despite notable successes - for example, devolution for Scotland and Wales, the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, the Freedom of Information Act and partial reform of the House of Commons - progress has been disappointing in several areas.

We shall put forward new proposals for a reformed House of Lords, to be renamed the Senate, with two-thirds of its members elected by proportional representation. The remainder will be nominated for fixed periods by an independent commission. We propose to give select committees of both houses - some of which may be joint committees - significantly increased powers to hold the executive to account, including rights to summon witnesses and to see relevant papers, security permitting.

We shall abandon plans for regional assemblies in England, and instead invest greater powers in the town and county councils with which people are familiar. Councils rated "excellent" by the Audit Commission will gain extra powers. We will abolish council tax by 2010 and replace it with a fairer property tax.

While it retains the support of the majority, the monarchy should remain in place. However, we will require members of the royal family to pay tax on private income and, in consultation, we will look at the link between church and state. The honours system will be overhauled, including the removal of imperial titles, an end to all hereditary and automatic titles, and more transparency in the award of titles.

The integrity and probity of ministers and members of parliament is pivotal to ensuring public trust. All future questions about ministerial conduct, where the veracity or personal integrity of ministers is at issue, will be referred to a strengthened Committee on Standards in Public Life. It will decide whether or not an investigation should be carried out, who should carry it out, and on what terms. It will also have power to initiate its own investigations.

We will enact legislation limiting the tenure of future prime ministers to the life of two parliaments, or eight years, whichever is the greater.

Afterword by Tony Blair

Leadership is about winning arguments, about persuading people of the merits of a difficult course of action, and taking on vested interests. This government has too often resorted to triangulation - to identifying the two polar opposites of a policy - and putting ourselves in the middle. This has militated against coherence and credibility. We will abandon that policy. We are proud of our record, but accept we have missed many opportunities, for fear of alienating certain media outlets and certain interest groups. In my final period as Prime Minister, I will seek to prove my credentials as a true social democrat. With that in mind, I declare that I will stand down by 31 July 2006 at the latest. I will not seek in any way to interfere in the election of my successor and I will give him or her my full support.

Thanks to the Institute for Public Policy Research, Social Market Foundation, Fabian Society and Demos for assistance

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