Election '97: Blair invokes memory of Smith

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Tony Blair invoked the memory of the late Labour leader John Smith last night during a passionate appeal to the British people to elect him to build a better nation.

For the first time during the election campaign, he recalled the night before Mr Smith died, quoting him as saying: "Let me tell you what we want; all we want is the chance to serve."

It was the climax of a rousing speech before an audience of 500 people at Bristol Council House, during which he repeated Labour's commitment to the health service, education, employment and a more caring society. And, having spelled out promises on his 10 priorities in government, he said he would be held personally responsible if he failed to deliver.

"There is a difference between us and the Tories," he said. "The difference is that the buck stops with me and my team. I will promise only what I can deliver and I will deliver what I promise."

Returning to his familiar themes of using windfall taxes to create 250,000 new jobs and of reducing class sizes, Mr Blair spoke off the cuff amid wild cheering and applause. He was greeted with a two-minute ovation before he even spoke.

There were clear signs, however, that he was avoiding the demonstrations of triumphalism that many felt were the undoing of Neil Kinnock in 1992. During much of the applause he kept a straight face and urged his audience to calm down.

New Labour would be radical in government, he said, but radical in its plans for the future, not in returning to the failed radical politics of the past. He promised new leadership in Europe and a more caring society in which opportunities were available for everyone, "not just a privileged few at the top".

Describing his promises as a contract with the people, he added: "Hold me to that contract. Judge me on it and help me to deliver it." New Labour, he said, could create a new Britain, free from divisions and sleaze.

He insisted, however, that he was taking nothing for granted. "Some of the pundits have been saying it is all over," he said. "But it is not the pundits or pollsters or commentators that count. In two days' time it will be the British people who will vote and it is their verdict, and only their verdict, that counts for us."