"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.Reuse content