Defiant Blair is not for turning turning back

Labour Party: No panic, no change of policy and more promoting achievements says Prime Minister
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A DEFIANT Tony Blair declared yesterday he would never dilute his "New Labour medicine" as long as he remained Prime Minister.

Mr Blair angered his critics by ruling out a change of strategy to appeal to voters in Labour's traditional strongholds, following the party's defeat in this month's European elections.

Mr Blair will today seek to calm the nerves of Labour MPs when he answers questions at their weekly meetings. Many are worried that mass abstentions in the Euro poll threatens their own re-election prospects.

"Some people are working themselves into a lather," a Cabinet minister said. "There is no need to panic; the next election will not be fought on Europe alone."

The Prime Minister will disappoint those MPs who hoped he would tone down his pursuit of middle-class voters by wooing working-class people.

Yesterday he told a conference in Birmingham: "While I am leader of my party and Prime Minister of this country, I will never again have Britain forced to choose between a Labour Party that ignored the importance of business and ambition, and a right-wing Conservative Party which ignored the need for justice and compassion."

Mr Blair, who was speaking at a conference on the New Deal programme for the jobless, said the scheme was "New Labour in action".

"You tell me what other government has ever cut long-term youth unemployment in half in just two years. There isn't one. But we have."

Emphasising Labour's appeal to all sections of society, Mr Blair said: "We have introduced a minimum wage while giving people the lowest mortgage rates for 30 years ... We have given people the largest rise in child benefit, but we have also cut business taxes."

Mr Blair received a boost in his battle against his critics yesterday when moderates gained a seat from the left in the annual elections to Labour's National Executive Committee. Lord Sawyer, the party's popular former general secretary, topped the poll, defeating Pete Willsman, one of four members of the left-wing Grassroots Alliance elected last year.

Blairites welcomed the results, saying party members had punished left- wingers who had indulged in "trouble-making rather than constructive criticism". However, the Grassroots Alliance increased its share of the vote from 45 per cent last year to 47 per cent.

Mark Seddon, a member of the alliance and the editor of Tribune, criticised Mr Blair's speech yesterday, accusing him of taking "an aggressive stand" against Old Labour.

He also attacked proposals by Labour officials, revealed in The Independent yesterday, to encourage constituency parties to replace their general committees with all-member meetings.