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By nature Tony Blair is a gatherer-in rather than an excluder. One reason why the 'new Labour' rejection of the language of class war came easy to him is that he does have some misty vision of unity.

But events since last September’s petrol protests, particularly the immanence of the general election, have forced him to emphasise Labour’s political differences. The ‘E’ word, ‘egalitarianism’, is still forbidden, but Labour traditionalists have been heartened by the way their leaders are now allowing the party to appear committed to the poor and disadvantaged.

Labour simultaneously favours redistribution towards the poor but not redistribution from the better off.

They have got away with it because the Tories have been trying to get attention for their plans rather than focusing on the inconsistencies in Labour’s own policy.

William Hague favours savers and the better-off elderly. Labour’s preferences go in another direction. Its favourites are poorer parents with young children, married or not, and poor pensioners without savings. The muscle is being put into Labour’s schemes by Gordon Brown but Tony Blair is in agreement.

Do these differences mean there is now clear blue water between the main contenders? Some Tories are pinching themselves at the ‘concessions’ made by Michael Portillo, for example on across-the-board cut in income tax.

The Tories have made some big spending promises, not just to match Labour on health and education but also free nursing care for those who need looking after long term.

Both parties are making heroic assumptions about what will happen to the UK economy over the next few years. Both Labour and Tory plans assume growth and resulting increases in public revenues. If growth falters, it would be difficult to pay for existing spending commitments (which the Tories have mostly signed up for) without significantly increased public borrowing.

  • David Walker writes for The Guardian.

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