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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Hain calls for social justice focus
Peter Hain
Peter Hain was outspoken on tax last month
Ministers should be less concerned about "alienating" middle Britain and instead make a virtue of "redistribution", Commons leader Peter Hain has insisted.

He was speaking only weeks after Tony Blair publicly slapped down his suggestion that high earners should pay more tax.

Then Mr Hain drew rebukes from Downing Street and the Treasury when he said there were "hard choices" ahead in terms of helping those on low and middle incomes - and that top earners might have to fork out more to help.

We've got to be much clearer that we really are committed to social justice... to redistribution of wealth and income
Peter Hain,
Commons leader

Mr Blair swiftly ruled this out, insisting: "Tax policy is not going to change. We are not going to be raising the top rate of tax."

In an interview on BBC2's Newsnight programme on Thursday, Mr Hain said: "We've got to be much clearer that we really are committed to social justice, we really are committed to redistribution of wealth and income, that we really are trying to narrow the gap between those at the top and those at the bottom."

But he said this had to be done in a way "that doesn't create the kind of old Labour agenda that's economically unsuccessful and ran Labour out of power.

"That is the challenge."


Mr Hain said it was time to build on the government's record of economic confidence and stability.

"We can be less worried about alienating, if you like, middle Britain because middle Britain understands and has confidence in our agenda," he said.

The government should be "more concerned to really project our values of social justice and commitment to democracy, commitment to liberty, these values which people do want to hear us preach more strongly," he added.

Mr Hain was forced to drop a suggestion in a speech he was making to a left-wing think-tank in Cardiff last month that higher earners should pay more tax after criticism from the government.

Instead of his planned comments, Mr Hain spoke of the need to consider radical steps to narrow the gap between rich and poor and ensure fairness in the tax system.

It was seen as a climbdown for someone who has enjoyed a reputation as one of the free-thinkers of the Labour government.

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