Blair says Britain should sell on substance not just style

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair donned traditional white tie and tails last night to present his first major foreign affairs speech at the Mansion House. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, says the Prime Minister insisted Britain would "compete on brains not brawn".

Tony Blair last night described himself as a "patriot" and reinforced the Government's "rebranding" of Britain's image abroad as "a great place to be".

At the Mansion House in the City of London, wearing the traditional evening dress that was spurned by Gordon Brown when the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his own speech there, Mr Blair said that Britain had "new optimism, confidence and self-assurance" about its future.

But after criticism that last week's Anglo-French summit at Canary Wharf in Docklands, east London, focused too much on "cool Britannia", Mr Blair said that the new confidence in Britain was not just about style.

"It is of course about substance," he said. "It's about knowing where we are going. That's what gives us the confidence. We do. And with the right blend of intelligence and determination, we will get there. We compete on brains not brawn."

The Prime Minister's goals included a "quantum leap" in education, a low-inflation economy, and reform of the constitution.

His speech contrasted with the anti-European scepticism of the Tories, but it showed little change on the main foreign affairs strategy.

However, Mr Blair said that foreign policy should not be seen as a self- contained part of government in a box marked "abroad" and "foreigners". It should complement and reflect our domestic goals, and be part of the mission of national renewal.

"In the end I am simply a patriot. I believe in Britain, but it is an enlightened patriotism," he said. "Patriotism based not on narrow chauvinism but on the right values and principles."

Presenting himself as a staunch ally of the United States over Iraq, and a pro-European, Mr Blair said that Britain would be strong in Europe and strong with the United States - "there is no choice between the two. Our aim should be to deepen our relationship with the US at all levels. We are the bridge between the US and Europe. Let us use it."

Leaving all sentiment behind, Mr Blair said the US was a "force for good in the world - they can always be relied on when the chips are down. The same should always be true of Britain".

Underlining Britain's readiness to stand firm against Saddam Hussein, Mr Blair said Britain needed strong defence, and to use power and influence for a purpose.

Britain must be a key player on international issues such as the environment, drugs, terrorism, crime, human rights and development.

Crime would be one of the key issues on the agenda at the Birmingham summit for the British presidency of the European Union next year, he said.