Abandoning Labour's traditional socialist approach, Mr Blair attacked the Tory right for denying the importance of society but said the problem of 'old socialism' was the tendency to subsume the individual in the state.
'We need to rebuild Britain as a community, to establish a new relationship between society and the individual based on rights and duties that go together. We must apply that new settlement economically, socially and constitutionally to our country. We must cease to regard politics as a choice between individual and community and realise their interdependence,' he told a meeting in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. The crimes of the last week were so horrific that they provoked anger and disbelief in equal proportions, but he said they were like 'hammer blows struck against the sleeping conscience of the country, urging us to wake up and look unflinchingly at what we see'.
They were manifestations of a society that was becoming unworthy of that name, he said. 'A solution to this disintegration doesn't simply lie in legislation. It must come from the rediscovery of a sense of direction as a country and most of all from being unafraid to start talking once again about the values and principles we believe in and what they mean for us, not just as individuals but as a community.
'We cannot exist in a moral vacuum. If we do not learn and then teach the value of what is right and what is wrong, then the result is simply moral chaos which engulfs us all.'
He said the breakdown in order was intimately linked to the break-up of community, which defined a relationship between individuals and society based on rights and obligations.
'Self-respect is in part derived from respect for others, the recognition that we are not just buyers and sellers in some marketplace or individuals set in isolation, but that we are members of a community that owe obligation to others as well as ourselves and that depend on others to succeed and prosper.'
It was easy to deny the idea of community, Mr Blair said. 'But call it community values, family values or even spiritual values. What they all have in common is something bigger than 'me'.'
His remarks were echoed by Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, with a call for a consensus on measures to reverse the rise in unemployment.
Mr Brooke told a meeting in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire: 'We do no service to anyone and least of all to each other by emphasising our differences and not identifying the things that bring us together.
'This includes the willingness to acknowledge if we have made mistakes. We are more likely to conquer our difficulties if we have a mutual sense of national purpose that we are all pulling in the same direction.'
Appealing for the 'nation to speak with one voice', Mr Brooke said: 'Our present economic difficulties . . . present such a threat as to pull the nation together.'Reuse content