Tony Blair's government will be radical, modern and "very definitely new Labour," the Prime Minister promised yesterday as he introduced his legislative programme.
But John Major told him: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Mr Blair's government was full of such intentions, the Conservative Party leader said, and the British people would pay the price in higher public spending bills and higher taxes. Yesterday's clash was the first Commons exchange since Tony Blair and John Major swapped roles, and at times the only change seemed to be the fact that Mr Blair stood at the Government rather than the Opposition despatch box. The Prime Minister continued his old habit of attacking the Conservatives' record, while the new Opposition leader continued to warn of the dangers of a Labour government almost as if he were still in office. Opening the debate, Mr Blair claimed that his government would demonstrate "long-termism in action". "This is the ambitious, practical programme of a new Labour government that has its feet on the ground, sound values in its heart and the necessary mixture of idealism and realism which the modern age demands," he told the House of Commons. "We speak as the one-nation party in British politics today. We speak for the whole nation and we will serve the whole nation." Mr Blair said his party's landslide victory had given it a clear mandate "to modernise what is outdated, to make fair what is unjust, and to do both by the best means available, irrespective of doctrine or dogma, without fear or favour." The Prime Minister said education remained his first priority. "Building the best-educated and best-skilled nation in the Western world will take time, of course, but at least now we are making a start. I want this government to be long-termism in action," he said. In Europe, he promised to replace isolationism with leadership, in politics, to clean up public life and in the economy, to replace Conservative "boom and bust" with stability. Mr Blair said he intended to provide strong leadership and to build on the hope and optimism which the election result had set "coursing through the veins of our nation." "We will not put right the damage of 18 years in 18 days, or 18 months, but we will start as we mean to go on - setting the agenda, not having it set for us," he said. Conservative scares over what could happen under a Labour government no longer carried any weight, he said. "People know them to be false. They rejected them in the last election. If Tory MPs have learnt no lessons from the last election defeat, they had better prepare themselves for the next one," he said. The minimum wage would help to underpin the system with fairness and the redistribution of lottery money would help to put the Government in touch with the people. The former prime minister said that Labour had inherited a nation in better shape than it had been for many years, with inflation at its lowest for 50 years, tax at its lowest for 60 years and the lowest interest and mortgage rates for a generation. Employment was rising, unemployment was falling and standards of health and education were improving, Mr Major said. "The new government deserves some goodwill and it deserves some luck. I am willing to give it goodwill and for the sake of the country I am prepared to wish it luck. No government has ever come to office with such an inheritance, but it was an inheritance won against daily opposition and obstruction of many of the members now sitting opposite on the government benches," he said. Labour's plan to abolish the Assisted Places scheme would simply open up new social divides, he claimed. "The Government don't believe that children from less well-off families should have the opportunity to attend good public schools. Only those children whose parents can afford it can go. Under new Labour, the size of the wallet matters most in education," he said. …