... and he's Mr No as well

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair breezed into Brighton yesterday with a warning to first- time Labour voters that they must expect to hear tough decisions they were not expecting.

"The art of political leadership is not saying `Yes' to people," he said. "The art of political leadership is knowing when to say `No'. That is when I suspect it will get a lot harder."

Delegates to the party conference are likely to hear the word "No" many times this week. In a Clintonesque town-hall meeting in Hove, the Prime Minister rehearsed his main theme of the week: "Hard choices." The Government will reject pleas from the unions and constituency parties for increased public spending on health, education and pensions.

Conference organisers who met to hammer out a series of composite motions for debate believe there could be a close vote on the imposition of pounds 1,000 a year tuition fees on a million university students from October 1998. "We might be defeated," said a source close to the party leader.

However, Labour spokesmen insisted that there would be no backing down.

Answering a wide range of questions from voters in a constituency that Labour never expected to capture in the general election, Mr Blair defended the "very, very important" role of MI5 in combatting terrorism. "We need a security service. It would not be sensible to do away with it altogether."

The Labour leader insisted that the process of modernising the party must continue.