Labour Party Conference: Blair seeks equality, opportunity and second term as PM

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TONY BLAIR set out his passionate vision for Labour to be "the new progressive force in British politics", which would create a nation based on "the equal worth of all". Setting his sights on ending the party's "unfinished business" by winning a second term, the Prime Minister pledged to free people of the "forces of conservatism", which he said had done so much damage this century.

In his address yesterday, Mr Blair said he wanted "a new Britain where the extraordinary talent of the British people liberated from the forces of conservatism that so long have held them back, create a model 21st- century nation, based not on privilege, class or background, but on the equal worth of all."

He added: "One hundred years in existence, 22 in power. We have never ever won a full second term. That is our unfinished business. Let us now finish it and with it finish the Tory party's chances of doing as much damage in the next century as they've done in this one."

Mr Blair said he did not claim that Britain had been transformed since the last general election, but "the foundations of a new Britain are being laid. While there is one child still in poverty in Britain today, one pensioner in poverty, one person denied their chance in life - there is one Prime Minister and one party that will have no rest ... no sense of mission completed."

A "technological revolution" was driving the forces of change, without respect for tradition. He warned: "People are born with talent and everywhere it is in chains. Fail to develop the talents of any one person, we fail Britain. Talent is 21st-century wealth."

The closed doors of snobbery and prejudice, ignorance and poverty, fear and injustice had to broken down and equality created. "Not equal incomes. Not uniform lifestyles or taste or culture. But true equality - equal worth, an equal chance of fulfilment, equal access to knowledge and opportunity. Equal rights. Equal responsibilities. The class war is over. But the struggle for true equality has only just begun."

The Prime Minister said it was "the new radicals, the Labour Party modernised" that must undertake the "historic mission" of setting potentials free. The 21st century would not be "the battle between capitalism and socialism" but "between the forces of progress and the forces of conservatism".

Mr Blair said for 50 years Britain had been torn between Europe and the United States in its search for an identity in the post-Empire world. He insisted: "If we believe our destiny is with Europe, then let us leave behind the muddling through, the hesitation, the half-heartedness which has characterised British relations with Europe for 40 years and play our part with confidence and pride, giving us the chance to defeat the forces of conservatism, economic and political that hold Europe back too."

Mr Blair urged against the forces of conservatism being able to press for separatism in Scotland and stop devolution in Northern Ireland. "We supported you when you were in government - don't make our task harder now because that would be the real betrayal of the children of Northern Ireland."

He told the conference: "It would be comforting to think the forces of conservatism were only Tories. But wrong. There were forces of conservatism who said changing Clause Four would destroy the Labour Party, when in truth it was critical to our renewal."

On education, Mr Blair announced a target of 50 per cent of young adults going into higher education in the next century. More people would be encouraged to stay at school beyond 16 by offering a smart card to all those aged 16 to 18 who stayed in education with cut- price deals for shops, theatres, cinemas, trains and buses.

On transport, Mr Blair defended his deputy John Prescott, saying: "Thanks to him - and the new Strategic Rail Authority - the next 10 years will see the largest investment in the railways for 100 years."

The Prime Minister admitted pressure for improvements in the NHS was strong, it needed money and the first two years had been "tough". But the NHS also required reform: "I say in all frankness to the BMA - you want our reforms to slow down, I want them to speed up."

The Government would start booked appointments for cancer and cataract patients next year and everyone within the next two years would be "able once again" to see an NHS dentist just by phoning NHS Direct.

There would be a new Crime Bill in the Queen's Speech. "I can announce we will provide the extra resources for a database where every known offender will have their DNA recorded and evidence from any scene of crime will be matched with it." Striking a personal note, Mr Blair confessed it was "actually a bit odd" being Prime Minister.

"Sometimes can't sleep. Worry about the job. Worry about the kids. Worry about growing old. Worry about interest rates going up. Worry about Newcastle going down."

He added: "Then you've got these big worries - when's the health money really going to make a difference? Why are there still people sleeping in doorways? Can't we turn round failing schools more quickly? How many of our pensioners will go cold this winter?

"It's a big job. A lonely job. The red boxes really do come at you day and night, papers to read, decisions to make. Sometimes life and death decisions, after all the advice and consultation, that only the Prime Minister can make. So it's a pressure. But it's a privilege too ... The purpose of politics was to make sure that children were given the best chance in life. If anything happened to me, you'd soon find a new leader.

"But my kids would not find a new father. So when I pledge to end child poverty in 20 years, I do so not just as a politician, but as a father."

Mr Blair said Labour's history was such that its potential had never been realised. "People were made to feel we wanted to hold them back, limit their aspirations, when in truth the very opposite was our goal.

"We were chained by our ideology. We thought we had eternal doctrines when they are in truth eternal values - solidarity, social justice, the belief not that society comes before individual fulfilment but that it is only in a strong society of others that the individual will be fulfilled."

He told delegates: "Our job is to serve. Our workplace, the future. Let us step up the pace. Be confident. Be radical. To every nation a purpose. To every party a cause.

"And now, at last, party and nation joined in the same cause for the same purpose: to set our people free."