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Tony Blair read the last rites for Britain's working class yesterday and said: "I want to make you all middle class."

The Prime Minister claimed millions who wouldpreviously have thought of themselves as working class were now becoming upwardly mobile.

He said they had higher aspirations than their parents or grandparents.

And he said they would keep Labour in power for the next 10 years because they realised his was the party who could help them achieve their dreams.

Blair's speech, to left-of-centre think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research, was part of the Government's bid to put the Mandelson affair behind them and concentrate on policy and issues.

But it was given a cool reception by poverty groups and the unions.

They joined opposition parties in accusing the PM of neglecting the needs and aspirations of the poorest.

Blair spelt out how Labour's policies could change lives and Britain for the better. He said: "Slowly but surely, the old establishment is being replaced by a new, larger, more meritocratic middle class.

"A middle class characterised by greater tolerance of difference, greater ambition to succeed, greater opportunities to earn a decent living.

"A middle class that will include millions who traditionally may see themselves as working class but whose ambitions are far broader than those of their parents and grandparents.

"And far from abandoning our traditional support, we are saying that, in a modern Britain, everyone must have the chance to fulfil their potential, what-ever their background, age, sex or race.

"This Government has a 10-year programme to tackle poverty and social exclusion.

"At the end, I believe we will have an expanded middle class, with ladders of opportunity for those from all backgrounds, no more ceilings halting people from achieving the success they merit."

Blair then talked about Labour's achievements in power - and claimed particular triumphs in health, education, crime and welfare reform.

But STUC general secretary Bill Speirs said: "We can only have a middle class if we have people on either side.

"As someone who has always wanted to see the abolition of the class system, I'm a little disappointed that the Prime Minister's ambitions should be limited to expanding the middle class that's doing well.

"It's also very difficult to square the idea of a massive expansion of the meritocracy with the imposition of tuition fees and the abolition of student grants."

Morag Gillespie, director of the Scottish Low Pay Unit, said: "It's terribly easy to say these things. But unless hard political policies are there to achieve them, it will remain rhetoric.

"So many of the jobs available at the moment are part-time, temporary and low-paid. These are not the kind of jobs that will make a new middle class."

And SNP chief executive Mike Russell accused Blair of being solely interested in the needs of the well-off at the expense of the poor.

He added: "Tony Blair thinks we should all be middle class despite the fact that all the leading figures in New Labour clearly want to be upper class.

"Those that are not already millionaires borrow money from millionaires so they can live like Lords.

"The truth is that the divide between rich and poor in our society is growing and Tony Blair has made it clear that he is on the side of the rich."
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Author:Thompson, David
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 15, 1999
Previous Article:Sorry Tony but I'm still proud of my roots; Are we ashamed we've done well while there's still an underclass?
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