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Labour in Blackpool: Caned Blair draws veil over his schoolboy offence: Conference notebook

TONY BLAIR confesses to having been caned at school in a BBC programme on law and order tonight, and says: 'It probably did me no harm.'

He glosses over the causes of his caning, but the Labour leader - 'tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime' - does not believe caning is the answer.

He tells Pat and Alan, a couple from Southampton, who have been burgled: 'I agree we need severe discipline but I would not agree with you on the cane . . . '

Shaking the image of the Blair family in domestic bliss in Islington, he says that he, too, has suffered burglaries. But he adds: 'I doubt there is anything that any politician can ever promise that is tough enough for what the average person wants.'

Mr Blair's backroom boys have been hard at work drafting his first speech to the annual party conference since becoming leader.

The framework for the speech has been laid by David Miliband, 30, head of the Labour leader's policy team. But the glittering Blair phrases - 'radical but relevant', 'a nation in work not on benefit', 'fair taxation not high taxation' - are to be polished by Alistair Campbell, 37, Mr Blair's press secretary.

Mr Campbell had a hand in crafting Mr Blair's well-received speech last Tuesday shifting Labour's image away from the party of high tax and high spending. He is also, until after the conference season, assistant editor for the Labour-supporting Today newspaper. Observers are watching to see if he can resist the temptation of praising his own speech.

THE Labour leadership has also changed the colour of the conference platform. Out has gone the traditional battleship grey. In has come a strange green hue, which Blackpool regulars will instantly recognise as the colour of mushy peas but champagne socialists know as 'avocado'.

Dennis Skinner and Tony Benn had their last fling on the National Executive Committee last night, prior to being chucked off after today's NEC elections. They voted against the leadership on almost everything. 'It was like old times,' said Larry Whitty, the party's soon-to-be-moved general secretary.

That may explain why the party conference agenda says all next year's events are happening in 1994. The Blair take-over is clearly year zero for Labour.

THE Labour Party maintained its commitment to the women's quota in the selection of its team to kick off the conference with a football match against the Parliamentary lobby hacks at Bloomfield Road, the home of Blackpool Football Club.

They fielded three women MPs: Mo Mowlam, Kate Hoey, and Bridgit Prentice. Billy Bingham, the Blackpool boss who presented a trophy after the match, is unlikely to follow the policy. The MPs were beaten 4-1, although Ms Hoey scored from the penalty spot.

(Photograph omitted)