Radical, Tony, you may be. But what kind of radical, exactly?

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The Independent Online
An ambition to change Britain into a radical beacon for the 21st century was raised by Tony Blair in Brighton yesterday. But what does radical mean to him?

Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, sifts through the rhetoric in search of definition.

Compassion with a hard edge, high ideals and hard choices were promised in the first conference speech from a Labour Prime Minister since 1978.

Mr Blair said he wanted a government "not popular for one time, but remembered for all time. Not just a better government than the Tories, but one of the great, radical, reforming governments of British history."

"Today I say to the British people: the chains of mediocrity have been broken, the tired days are behind us, we are free to excel once more," he told the packed hall, with standing room only and numerous overspills. We are free to build that model 21st- century nation, to become that beacon to the world."

But beyond that call for a new patriotism, the substance of the speech - the hard promises backed by hard cash - was more careful, if not cautious, and more manageable.

On education, the Prime Minister said he wanted "the high ideal of the best schools in the world. Reached through hard choices".

That meant that by 2002 - the year of the next general election - all 32,000 schools in Britain would have modern computers; 10,000 schools would have benefited from a pounds 2bn repair and equipment programme; four out of every five 11-year-olds should have hit a new literacy target; and an extra 500,000 students would have gone into higher and further education.

But the small print of a Whitehall press brief suggested that the pounds 2bn for repairs was based on the Budget commitment of pounds 1.3bn from the windfall tax - boosted by the "hope" that other, private sources would contribute pounds 700m.

Mr Blair's commitment on welfare was even less clear-cut, although he did say he would not rest "until all our children live in a Britain where no child goes hungry, the young are employed, and the old are cherished, valued to the end of their days".

The underlying principle of the welfare reform package to be offered in a Green Paper early next year would appear to be more self-provision - without tax increases, but freeing more money for education and health.

"It means getting money out of social failure and into schools, into hospitals where we want to see it," Mr Blair said, adding: "We need a modern welfare that means a better balance between public and private money." On health, he said: "The NHS was a beacon to the world in 1948. I want it to be so again. It will always be safe with us. I want it to be better with us."

Money was not the only problem with healthcare, and from next April the Government would be setting up 10 "specially funded" Health Action Zones to experiment with new ideas for the delivery of healthcare. The Department of Health said: "This will involve ... reshaping the way services are organised to meet new needs."

While some lottery money could be made available, along with private finance, for the zone pilots, the health department added: "They will be funded in the main from making the existing budgets ... work harder."

In spite of the previous spin, in the weekend newspapers, which built up Mr Blair's commitment to tackle global warming as one of the big issues of the speech, he devoted just one paragraph to it, referring delegates to a report by the Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Robert May, being published in London.

He gave no detail, but urged the delegates to "read it and you will see why I am so passionate in my commitment to action". The commitment was not specified.

The most vague section of the speech was about an issue that deeply concerns the Prime Minister - the family.

"We cannot say we want a strong and secure society when we ignore its very foundation: family life," he told delegates.

Speaking as a "modern man", Mr Blair said the modern crisis was producing nearly 100,000 teenage pregnancies a year; children growing up without role models; more and deeper poverty; more crime; more truancy; "and above all more unhappiness".

Mr Blair's answer was to set up a Cabinet committee, under the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, which would explore every policy, every initiative, every avenue - to see how families could be strengthened.

But in the end, Mr Blair warned, the "quiet revolution" he was promising for education, health and welfare meant not only hard choices, but involvement.

"We need to bring a change, too, in the way we treat each other," he said. "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."

Mr Blair's adaptation of the old Marxist dictum, "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" was an appropriate benchmark for the change he has wrought in the Labour Party. Next, he was saying, he wanted to change Britain. And after that, the world.

There is no doubting his passion, but he is not a radical in the traditional mould.

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