Labour Conference: Blair: We must make our nation proud

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The Independent Online
Patriotism and the task of rebuilding Britain were at the heart of Tony Blair's speech to the Labour conference. He told delegates that he wanted the country to set an example to the rest of the world.

Britain can and should be the best place in the world to live, the Prime Minister said. In a speech which combined enthusiasm for the "richness" of the British character with an attack on the "modern crisis" of teenage pregnancy and family breakdown, he thanked the people for putting their trust in Labour.

"I want them to say, this week as they watch us here in Brighton: we did the right thing. I want the British people to be as proud of having elected us as we are to serve them," he said. Mr Blair went on to say that the highlight of the election for him was seeing people waving and clapping as he drove to Buckingham Palace. "They were liberated. Theirs were the smiles of tolerant, broad-minded, outward-looking, compassionate people and suddenly they learned that they were in the majority after all. As one woman put it to me, 'We've got our government back'.

The British people had always been open to change and renewal. "As our great poet John Milton put it, we are 'a nation now slow or dull, but of quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point that human capacity can soar to'."

There was no room for complacency, he said. "May 1 was the beginning not the end. We have never won two full consecutive terms of office. Never. That is one more record I want to break. No cockiness about the Tories even now. They're not dead. Just sleeping.

"What the people give, the people can take away. We are the servants. They are the masters now," he said.

Labour had already begun to fulfil its contract with the people, putting money into hospitals and schools, signing the social chapter, restoring union rights at GCHQ and banning both handguns and landmines.

As usual, one of the main themes was education, and Mr Blair read out two letters congratulating him on the government's new summer schools.

One of them, from 11 year-old Emma O'Brien, said: "All of us have made new friends. I think you and Parliament have done the right thing. I have got a better education." Standards must be raised, particularly in literacy and numeracy, and poor teaching would not be tolerated.

By 2002, every school in Britain would have modern computers, and teachers trained to teach on them.

Anticipating a row over government plans to make graduates repay their fees, he promised to put the money saved into universities and colleges and to allow for an extra 500,000 students in five years' time.

There would be difficult decisions to be made, he said, particularly on the economy. Interest rates had had to go up, but they were still well below the high levels of the early 1990s. The Tory cycle of boom and bust was being broken. "I want Britain to be a country of enterprise and ambition where small businesses grow, manufacturing and engineering revive, where we learn the lessons of British industrial relations over the past 100 years. Fairness at work, yes. But flexibility will remain."

There would be tough choices on welfare, too. "We will not be that beacon to the world in the year 2005 with a welfare state built for the very different world of 1945."

The NHS was "the greatest act of modernisation any Labour government ever did". More hospitals would be built, with one more being added to the list of 14 already announced.

Everyone would have to get involved to make the changes work, though. "I tell you: a decent society is not based on rights. It is based on duty. Our duty to each other. To all should be given opportunity, from all responsibility demanded. "I make no apology. I back zero tolerance on crime. I back powers to tackle anti-social neighbours; to make parents responsible for their children."

Other announcements in the speech included a Bill to ban foreign donations to political parties and a White Paper on simpler government, aiming to connect more people with services via new technology.

The new Britain should be one where discrimination and racism were outlawed, and which played a leading role in Europe. All the people should play a part in creating it.

"There is a place for all the people in new Britain ... believe in us as much as we believe in you. Give just as much to our country as we intend to give. Give your all. Make this the giving age. Britain, head and heart, can be unbeatable. that is the Britain I offer you. That is the Britain that together can be ours."

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