Delegates told to sing from same hymnbook

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN GOODWIN

A warning on the distraction of internal party squabbles delivered by Tom Sawyer, Labour's general secretary, briefly interrupted the heady tone of the closing conference session.

Mr Sawyer told delegates that every minute Tony Blair had to spend dealing with "internal party problems and disagreement" deflected him from attacking the Tories and winning for Labour. "We should think about that because he is our greatest asset." Enthused by a rousing speech by John Prescott, the deputy leader, delegates ended the conference by singing "The Red Flag" and "Auld Lang Syne".

It had help from 40 members of the Ditchling Choral Society who also sang the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" from Verdi's Nabucco.

Mentioning no names, though clearly indicating Roy Hattersley, the former deputy leader who attacked grant-maintained schools earlier in the week, Mr Sawyer said his message was directed particularly at "those who find it easy to have their views reported".

Complimenting delegates on a conference free of defeats for the leadership, Mr Sawyer said that when the voters saw a party where leaders and members shared power and responsibilities together, that was the time they started to trust the party. "And that's the time the Tories start to really worry," he said. "And that's a really important lesson we have to learn and practice, not just in opposition but in government as well."

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