LABOUR IN BLACKPOOL: Prescott on song as week ends in a bang

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The Independent Online
John Prescott yesterday wound up Labour's week in Blackpool with a blistering attack on Tory "immorality" and a restatement of the vision of a Decent Society set out by Tony Blair in his keynote speech.

With a mix of variety-club humour exploiting Tory disarray and earnest pledges on creating jobs and social justice, Labour's deputy leader won a prolonged standing ovation.

But the send-off rally was not without hiccups. There was embarrassment when Mr Prescott lost track of his speech and was unable to ad-lib his way through Labour's five key pledges.

"These five pledges are essential," he blustered. "You can see I can't find them." They were set out in giant letters on the wing of the stage set, but Mr Prescott eventually unearthed the prompt card which party campaigners will be using.then rattled off the pledges: "Smaller classes, tough on crime, shorter waiting lists, more jobs, a stronger economy."

More alarming was the explosive interruption to the singing which traditionally closes the conference. "The Red Flag" was delivered with gusto - Tony and Cherie Blair joining in with studied visibility - and delegates were rocking along to D-ream's "Things Can Only Get Better" when there was an overhead explosion.

The music stopped, some in the hall went into a nervous semi-crouch, then confetti began falling from a billow of smoke. As the "Labour X" mini ballot papers floated down, the celebrations stuttered back to life. Officials said later the cannon had been too loud and the music should not have stopped. Special Branch had been informed of the stunt.

Mr Prescott delivered the type of speech that has made him a conference favourite. He lavished praise on delegates for their show of unity, bringing together "all strands in the party - old and new - bringing together the politics of ideas and the politics of organisation". He went on: "This week will go down in history as the week when Labour - a party reborn, proud of its heritage, confident of its future - clearly proved it is ready for government."

The Tories, by contrast, were divided, desperate and dangerous, he said. John Major was running scared of Labour, of his own MPs and of an election. Turning on the Prime Minister's call for ethics to come back into politics, Mr Prescott said that for many Tories, morality meant not getting caught. "If John Major is serious about morality, he should let Nolan look into party funding." Morality was about fairness and social justice. Where was the morality in people being bussed between hospitals or 16-year-olds forced to sleep rough on the streets?

What was really immoral, Mr Prescott said, was a record number of homeless and hundreds of thousands of workers trapped in unemployment when pounds 5bn from council houses remained locked up. "Labour's coming home. And when we are in government, Cathy can come home too."

Urging on the party foot soldiers, the deputy leader said the 1992 election defeat was burnt into his memory - Neil Kinnock on the steps of Walworth Road conceding defeat with dignity and emotion. "That image will only be extinguished when we see Tony Blair on the steps of 10 Downing Street, announcing a magnificent Labour victory."

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