Monday, April 23, 2007

Meacher: 'Blair's Britain makes me sick'

Melissa Kite, Deputy Political Editor, Sunday Telegraph

Last Updated: 11:41pm BST 21/04/2007

Tony Blair has created a "staggering degree of inequality" in Britain, perpetuated a culture of greed and undermined democracy, according to one of those vying to succeed him.

Michael Meacher: 'We now have four classes'

Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, now a Labour leadership candidate, said that society was more unequal now than at any time since the 1930s. A new class, the "mega rich", had been given unprecedented power and access to government by Mr Blair, who was himself obsessed by money, he claimed.

Mr Meacher said that he was close to securing the 44 names necessary to mount a challenge to the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, the overwhelming favourite to succeed Mr Blair. "I'm getting very close to it," Mr Meacher said. "I have 25, [John] McDonnell has 15 and the overwhelming majority of those will switch to me if John realises that he can't make it and drops out."

The MP for Oldham West said he believed passionately that Mr Brown should face a challenge. "People should have a choice. We should not have a coronation when there has been no debate on policy since Blair came in, in 1994.

"It's crucial that Brown is made to answer as to what he's going to deliver to us. We are entitled to know."


While Westminster was fixated on a Blairite challenger, Mr Meacher said, it would be wrong to underestimate the Left. "David Miliband, Charles Clarke, John Reid, it's a matter for them but it's quite interesting that there is a desperate thrashing around to find a candidate and they have not been able to do so. The tendency is to regard the Left as non-existent. That is a really serious misreading of the state of the Labour Party."

Accusing Mr Blair of exacerbating inequality, he added: "We are now a more unequal society than at any time since the 1930s. The average package of the chief executive of a FTSE 100 company is £46,155 a week. The average wage is £400 a week. That is a staggering degree of inequality.

"We now have four classes - an underclass who are so poor that they cannot participate in any meaningful way, a working class who are okay, a fairly well off middle class then a new category, the mega rich who are in a category of their own in terms of wealth, power and their influence on the Government through private meetings with ministers.

"I feel very sick and angry about it. I didn't expect this to happen under a Labour Government. The reason it has happened is, if I can quote Peter Mandelson in 1997, New Labour is very relaxed about people getting filthy rich."

Mr Blair, he said, had "far too little concern" for the people at the bottom. "Tony's natural mates are his big business friends. He feels comfortable with them, he admires and respects them and he gets a good response from them. They are only too glad to have someone in power whom they can do direct deals with."

The Prime Minister, said Mr Meacher, had also ridden roughshod over Parliament. "It would be hard to say this is a genuine parliamentary democracy. The framework is there but the decisions are fixed at private meetings between the Prime Minister and the power brokers in society, the financial houses, industry and the media."

Hitting out at the influence of Lord Sainsbury, the former science minister, with whom he sparred over the issue of genetically modified crops, Mr Meacher said: "People say that is why I was sacked. Lord Sainsbury was appointed by Blair. Blair himself is also pro-GM. Lord Sainsbury provided a lot of money to the Labour Party and he was clearly involved in a lot of GM research. This all mixed in with the Government's objectives."

He said a "conscience of the nation" watchdog should be created to look at all decisions of national importance and prevent abuses of power.

He claimed Mr Brown blocked a decision he took as environment minister to force the top 1,000 companies to publish their greenhouse gas emissions. "So if you ask if he's green - anything but. His feel for this agenda is very weak."

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