Blair admits Labour's 'managerial' style leaves voters cold

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair admitted yesterday that the Government's "managerial" style had turned off voters hours after a cabinet minister said Labour had been wrong to concentrate on the delivery of its promises.

Speaking for the first time of his ambition to win a third term, the Prime Minister said he would not drop "painful" reform of public services and the criminal justice system.

But he conceded that his Government had become "a bit technocratic and a bit managerial" in its first six years and had failed to explain to voters its overall vision of a fairer society. Mr Blair even admitted that he needed to listen more to the British people.

The Prime Minister, who on Thursday admitted that Labour "may have too many" targets, echoed even more candid remarks made earlier by Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

In comments that the Tories seized on as an admission that the Government had failed to deliver, Ms Hewitt said that Labour was "not in government in order to show that we can be more competent than the Conservative Party was".

Mr Blair and other ministers have repeatedly claimed that their mission is to "deliver" on its promises and "delivery" was a key campaign theme in the 2001 general election.

But Ms Hewitt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Labour's values were more important than meeting targets on education, health, crime and other areas. "When we talked about delivery, that may have been something of a mistake because ... you actually can't deliver good health or safe streets in the way that commercial companies can deliver pizzas," she said.

"I think we have sometimes fallen into a danger of talking as if we were managers and technocrats, and this business about delivery is actually a very technocratic kind of language.

"I think values are more important than targets. I think in the past we have sometimes fallen into the trap of frankly having too many targets."

In his speech to Labour members in Liverpool, Mr Blair defended his controversial policies on student finance and foundation hospitals. But he also admitted that he and other ministers were sometimes so focused on reform that they talked about what they were doing but "don't always talk about why we are doing it.

"It can come across as a bit technocratic, a bit managerial. For the public, and sometimes for the party, the reason for reform is not always clear.

"Perhaps too often we get lost in the thicket of the reform process; perhaps we don't step back from it and explain why we are reforming, why each change is necessary to open up opportunity, but for all - not a privileged few.

"So we should stick at it and measure our changes against a vision of a fairer and stronger Britain. We need to listen to the British people carefully, myself above all."

Pointing out that next month he will have led the longest Labour administration, he said: "Our ambition is to go much further than ever before. To fight and win a third term. We are up for the fight."

Theresa May, Conservative Party chairman, said the Prime Minister "looked and sounded like a condemned man. He seems to be more interested in delivering yet more spin rather than actually delivering on any of the promises he made to the British people before he was elected,'' she said.

Michael Howard, the shadow Chancellor, said: "Delivery and targets were the benchmark by which Labour was to be judged. Tony Blair and ministers such as Patricia Hewitt are now disowning targets because Labour are failing them."

Tony Woodley, the general secretary-elect of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said of Mr Blair on BBC Radio's The World at One: "He doesn't seem to be taking on board those core values that mark Labour out from the Tory party.

"If you disillusion the core voters, who are the voters who will put Labour in for a crucially important third term, then frankly people won't turn out.''