Eyes forward, Blair's back

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair yesterday admitted the Government had taken a "mild kicking" over August, and urged Labour to look to the "big picture".

Making his first public pronouncement about a raft of summer presentational problems, the Prime Minister also promised to continue modernising Labour's links with the unions.

Labour, he said, was still acting as if it were fighting an election, and urged a change of tempo. "This is a 10,000-metre race", he said, "not a 100-metre sprint."

Ahead of his appearance at the Trades Union Congress annual conference, Mr Blair indicated that Labour's relationship with the unions required further change.

"The most healthy relationship," he told party members in Darlington, "is between trade unionists as members of the party."

That clearly implied that the block vote at party conferences is seen by Mr Blair as a less-than- desirable arrangement. However senior party sources moved quickly to stress that no further reforms of party/union links were imminent.

Mr Blair, who returned from holiday last week, has been trying to focus attention on the "big picture" after a range of problems, ranging from the Millennium Dome to Lord Simon's shares.

The Prime Minister addressed directly the Government's presentational problems: "August has brought its share of problems for the Labour Party. Much of it has little to do with the big picture. A lot of it is summer froth."

Mr Blair was speaking at the first of a series of question and answer sessions with Labour members designed to promote his reform document "Partnership in Power".

The Prime Minister urged party members to accept changes, particularly to the Labour Party conference's role in policy making.

He said: "Conference should not be open season for those who want to pull the party apart or decide the whole of a complicated policy area in one-and-a-half hours on a Monday morning. It is an archaic way to make policy."

He said that the "nonsense of compositing" - where resolutions are grouped together by a powerful committee on the eve of conference - should end.

Alan Duncan, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, said: "Mr Blair can bare his soul, but he can't cover his tracks. This is an admission that Labour can no longer live by propaganda alone. We will indeed look at the 'big picture' which is looking worse for Labour by the day."