Blair warns of 'hard choices'

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Tony Blair warned the Scottish Labour conference yesterday that "Government is about hard choices", and said he had asked shadow ministers to find spending cuts in order to free resources for Labour's priorities.

"I have asked the Shadow Cabinet to submit to me their written bids spelling out their priorities and their legislative demands. And I tell them, as today I tell you, that some of them will be disappointed," he said.

Only if Labour could show itself capable of making difficult decisions would it deserve to be elected, he said. "Between now and the election we will face up to those hard choices so that at the election we put to the people what we will actually do. I will not have anything in our manifesto that I do not, hand on heart, believe a Labour government will be able to do."

The Labour leader took on left-wing critics in the party's traditional heartland. Referring to attacks on shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown's welfare- to-work plans, he said: "I rage at their stupidity." He dismissed calls to scrap Trident nuclear weapons as "posturing".

Mr Blair defended his shadow Chancellor's plan to cut benefits for young people who refuse work or training. "These are not the despised skivvy schemes of the Tories. These are real employment and training opportunities, with proper qualifications written into them. If a government is going to make that its first specific spending pledge ... then those young people have an obligation to participate," he said.

A series of critical motions sent to the party's Edinburgh Conference were watered down and votes which might embarrass the leadership were averted yesterday. But not all discontent was suppressed. Maria Fyfe, MP for Glasgow Maryhill, criticised Mr Blair for turning the party into a personal "fan club".

Mr Blair warned his party against complacency saying: "Though we are well placed, there is a long way to go."

He said the Shadow Cabinet must begin preparations for a smooth transition to government and told the conference: "I have asked colleagues to submit proposals that will make a difference at little or no cost. And I have asked them to look for savings in their own departmental areas so that we can change priorities, too."

He gave the example of the promise to abolish the assisted places scheme, which helps children of lower income families to get private schools, and to put the savings into reducing infant class sizes for all.