Labor Party in Britain offers its '90s agenda

April 17, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Sun Staff Correspondent

LONDON -- Britain's opposition Labor Party staked its claim to power yesterday with a manifesto of new-style socialism aimed at ending 12 years of Conservative rule.

Publication of the 20,000-word document is the result of the party's four-year effort to modernize its policies and prepare itself to contest the political center ground.

Conservative Prime Minister John Major must call a general election in the next 15 months. Labor, now widely recognized as offering voters a viable alternative government, is urging him to set a June ballot. Most observers believe that he will wait until fall, when the economy's recovery from recession is further advanced.

Neil Kinnock, Labor's leader, said 12 years of Conservative Party rule had turned Britain into "a nation of debt," adding: "They have no alibis."

The main planks of the party's platform, which will be introduced to voters during the campaign for nationwide local elections May 2, are:

* Replacement of the Conservative-introduced poll, or head, tax with a property tax related to ability to pay.

* Tax reform to increase the top income tax bracket from 40 percent to 50 percent.

* Benefit increases for pensioners and families with young children.

* Increased funding of the National Health Service, with introduction of value-for-money checks, campaigns against major diseases and a ban on tobacco advertising.

* A "quality revolution" to encourage the private sector to improve product safety and environmental protection, and a consumers' charter covering all goods and services.

* Monetary discipline to maintain economic stability, investment incentives to help business and introduction of a national industrial-training strategy.

* Support for multinational arms reductions in place of the party's historic commitment to unilateral disarmament.

The policy review, titled "Labor's Better Way for the 1990s," has been criticized by the left wing as a retreat from basic principles of socialism but has been supported by the majority of Labor members as necessary to increase voter appeal.

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