Blair in his own words

Some may love him, others may beg to differ. But on one thing most of us can agree: Tony Blair has the gift. In the TV age, the power of political oratory is greater than ever, and there's no bigger platform than the party conference. For Labour's longest-serving Prime Minister, the annual set-pieces have been intense, inspirational events - and provided fascinating insights into his psyche. Andy McSmith decodes the rhetoric
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1994 "Let us have the confidence once again that we can debate new ideas, new thinking, without forever fearing the taunt of betrayal. Let us say what we mean and mean what we say. Not just what we are against. But what we are for. No more ditching. No more dumping. Stop saying what we don't mean. And start saying what we do mean, what we stand by, what we stand for. Caution will not win us the next election. Courage will."

With the final words of his first leader's speech, Tony Blair made his famous announcement that he was abolishing Clause IV of the Labour Party's 76-year-old constitution. Reading the actual words, you might object that he does not mention Clause IV. True. If he had said what he meant, there would have been shouts of protest from his audience. Instead, his formidable spin doctors, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, glided through the ranks of journalists after the speech, explaining what the words implied. Journalists obligingly reported what they had been told as if it were what Blair had said.

1995 "I know that for some of you New Labour has been painful. There is no greater pain to be endured in politics than the birth of a new idea. Socialism to me was never about nationalisation or the power of the state. It is a moral purpose to life, a set of values, a belief in society, in co-operation. It is how I try to live my life; the simple truths. I am worth no more than any other man, I am my brother's keeper, I will not walk by on the other side. We aren't simply people set in isolation from each other, face to face with eternity, but members of the same family, community, the same human race. This is my socialism. The irony of our long years in opposition is that these values are shared by the vast majority of the British people."

A year has gone by. Blair has balloted Labour Party members and has abolished Clause IV - a high-risk tactic that paid off. And without formally changing the name of the Labour Party, he has managed to inject the term New Labour into the political language. So he has established that his socialism is not that Old Labour mantra of "common ownership of the means of production". Time now to say what his "socialism" is. This was in the days when he was leading the opposition, and could talk about "a moral purpose" and "simple truths" without provoking snorts of derision.

1996 "There is only one lasting route to higher living standards, better wages and more secure jobs. We'll win by our brains and skills, or not at all. We are still in the 30-30-40 economy. Thirty per cent do very well, 30 per cent just get by and 40 per cent struggle - or worse.

"When the Tories talk about the spirit of enterprise they mean a few self-made millionaires. Best of luck to them. But there should be a spirit of enterprise on the shop floor, in the office. Ask me my three main priorities for Government and I tell you: education, education and education. We are 35th in the world league of education standards, 35th. They say, 'Give me the boy at seven and I'll give you the man at 70.' Well, give me the education system that's 35th in the world today and I'll give you the economy that's 35th tomorrow."

"Education, education, education" - one of Tony Blair's most famous slogans. And like rather a lot of his famous slogans, it was borrowed from someone else. He owed this one to his friend Bill Clinton, who also inspired "New Labour".

At that time, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were not making any promises to increase spending on state education, and were quick to slap down David Blunkett when he suggested that public schools like Eton might lose their charitable status. But four to five years after this speech was made, parents suddenly noticed that their local schools had a lot more money to spend than before.

1997 "People ask me the highlight of the election. Mine was driving from home to Buckingham Palace, along streets we had driven hundreds of times. This drive was so different. As we turned into Gower Street, people watching our journey on TV came pouring out of the doorways, waving and shouting... with an energy and excitement that went beyond anything I imagined. They were liberated. Theirs were the smiles of tolerant, broad-minded, outward-looking, compassionate people and suddenly they learnt that they were in the majority after all... And with them I could sense confidence returning to the British people, compassion to the British soul, unity to the British nation, and that all three would give us new-found strength. You see, the people were yearning for change in their country, at a time when they could see we had had the guts to modernise our party... The result is a quiet revolution now taking place. Led by the real moderniser: not me, the British people... The size of our victory puts a responsibility on us to be a Government of high ideals and hard choices. 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 our history."

This was one speech Tony Blair could deliver in the knowledge that nothing could go wrong. The conference delegates were so delighted with victory that they maintained the discipline they had imposed on themselves in opposition, of never voting down any proposal supported by the leader. Labour had won, and it was a moment to revel. Notice the skill with which Blair represents a victory for one party as a triumph for a whole nation.

1998 "They're anxious too. More anxious than we were at their age, and no wonder. More violence. More crime. Drugs. Families breaking down. The old moral order under strain. I want for my children the Britain that you want for yours. Of course I want them to be successful, and go on to make a decent living. But I want more than that. I want them to grow up in a country of which they feel proud. I want to build for them a country in which their children can play safely in the park. A country in which every colour is a good colour, and every member of every race able to fulfil their potential. A country in which the sick are cared for, and the weak are tended by the strong. A country in which every parent treasures their children when young, and every child cherishes their parents when old. That is a country to be proud of. As our children's prospects rise, so our country's prospects rise. As our children grow in confidence, so our country grows in confidence. As our country grows in confidence, so the challenge doesn't seem so daunting after all. By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone."

After a year in power, the Labour Party was starting to feel the strain. The decision to keep a tight hold on public spending, which had done so much to reassure wavering voters the previous year, was causing trouble now because it hurt groups like the disabled and single parents. Tony Blair had an unexpected warning of the mood in the hall when he mentioned the popular Mo Mowlam, and set off an unscheduled standing ovation. His speech contained a mixed message: it promised the party a crusade to create a fairer society, while reassuring voters outside that Labour stood for social stability.

1999 "Today at the frontier of the new Millennium I set out for you how, as a nation, we renew British strength and confidence for the 21st century; and how, as a party reborn, we make it a century of progressive politics after one dominated by Conservatives. A new Britain where the extraordinary talent of the British people is liberated from the forces of conservatism that for so long have held them back, to create a model 21st-century nation, based not on privilege, class or background, but on the equal worth of all. And New Labour, confident at having modernised itself, is now the new progressive force in British politics which can modernise the nation. 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."

This speech launched the campaign to win a second full term in office, something the Labour Party had never achieved before. The phrase "the forces of conservatism" was to become notorious. It lumped together the anti-EU wing of the Conservative Party, Labour's far left, unions who opposed public service reform, the murderers of Stephen Lawrence, and the man who shot Martin Luther King. Right-wing newspapers hated the speech. For the first time, Peter Mandelson, who was in disgrace, had no hand in writing it. It was rumoured that he also disapproved of its content. But the conference audience liked it.

2000 "I am listening. I hear. And I will act. The point I'm making is this. The real world is full of competing causes. Most of them good. Most of them deserving. Many of them heart-rending. And it's not an arrogant government that chooses priorities. It's an irresponsible government that fails to choose. The test of leadership in politics is not how eloquently you say yes. It's how you explain why you're saying no. To be in touch is to be in sympathy. To be in government is to decide. And would it ever be right to choose a priority simply on the basis of a fuel blockade? What of those who can't protest; whose voice isn't supported by the media; who go neglected unless we speak for them? So I am listening. But I was also elected to lead. And if we want to reach our journey's end - that strong, fair and prosperous Britain for all - there are choices to be made."

Two weeks before this speech, the Labour Party had received the only electoral scare during its first term of office. Britain's roads had been blocked by protesting hauliers and farmers, who were outraged by the price of fuel, forced up by a combination of domestic tax and rising world oil prices. One opinion poll suggested the Conservatives might win the upcoming election. That was a false alarm, and here is Tony Blair telling his party that he was not scared. What he omitted to mention was that the Government was going to freeze fuel duty to head off any more protests.

2001 "This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us. Today, humankind has the science and technology to destroy itself or to provide prosperity to all. Yet science can't make that choice for us. Only the moral power of a world acting as a community can. By the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more together than we can alone. For those people who lost their lives on 11 September and those that mourn them, now is the time for the strength to build that community. Let that be their memorial."

By now, the Labour Party had achieved what had once seemed impossible: two successive general election victories with commanding majorities. This speech was to have been a victory celebration. Instead, it was overshadowed by 11 September. Tony Blair believed that the attacks fundamentally altered world politics. He had an inkling that after the war in Afghanistan, there could be war with Iraq, and already knew which side he would be on.

2002 "We are at a crossroads: Party, Government, country. Do we take modest though important steps of improvement? Or do we make the great push forward for transformation? I believe we're at our best when at our boldest. So far, we've made a good start but we've not been bold enough. Interdependence is obliterating the distinction between foreign and domestic policy. It was the British economy that felt the aftermath of 11 September; our cities who take in refugees from the 13 million now streaming across the world from famine, disease or conflict; our young people who die from heroin imported from Afghanistan. It is our climate that is changing. Today, a nation's chances are measured not just by its own efforts but by its place in the world."

As he spoke, everyone noticed that Tony Blair was dripping with sweat. There did not appear to be anything in the speech to raise his stress level so high. There was the promise of greater boldness, but not many specifics. What was on his mind was education and NHS reforms, which he knew would cause trouble, reforms to the judicial system that would anger the civil rights lobby and the Iraq war that would begin five months later. See how he tries to associate the apparently successful Afghanistan campaign with what lies ahead.

2003 "I do not just want an historic third term. Our aim must be an historic realignment of the political forces shaping our country and the wider world. Here we are poised, six-and-a-half years in, with a fantastic opportunity, to use or to lose. Yes, this is a testing time. But it is a test not just of belief but of character. And the time is for renewal, not retreat. A delegate said to me last night: 'I know what you want really to say. You want to say: "I know what I'm doing. Just let me get on with it."' Then she said: 'You do know what you are doing, don't you?' It's a fair question. I know the old top-down approach won't work any more. I know I can't say: 'I am the leader, follow me.' Not that that was your strong point anyway. Over the coming months, I want our party to begin a new discussion with the people of Britain.

This is Tony Blair on the defensive. The Iraq war has cost him two Cabinet resignations and a disastrous fall in public trust. He has lost Alastair Campbell. Then there's Lord Hutton's findings into the suicide of Dr David Kelly, the rebellion against Foundation Hospitals and the row about student fees. So Blair promised to be less of a "leader", more of a listener. Whatever became of that?

2004 "The evidence about Saddam having actual biological and chemical weapons, as opposed to the capability to develop them, has turned out to be wrong. I acknowledge that and accept it. I simply point out, such evidence was agreed by the whole international community... The problem is, I can apologise for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can't, sincerely at least, apologise for removing Saddam. The world is a better place with Saddam in prison... But at the heart of this is a belief that the basic judgement I have made since 11 September, including on Iraq, is wrong, that by our actions we have made matters worse, not better. I know this issue has divided the country... Judgments aren't the same as facts. Instinct is not science. I'm like any other human being, as fallible and as capable of being wrong. I only know what I believe."

Another year, another conference, and still Tony Blair is bedevilled by the Iraq war. He has also had a summer of speculation that he was about to resign. But he is back and determined to fight one more general election. This time he admits outright what previously he had only hinted at - that the intelligence with which he went to war was wrong. But, he pleads, it was an honest mistake.

2005 "Let ours be the party... with the values of social justice, equality, fairness, that helps Britain turn a friendly face to the future. When we made a decision about bidding for the Olympics... I didn't think we could do it. But I also thought, come on, at least give it a try. And it was a risk. But we proved something important in taking it. That Britain was a country... with dreams. But such nations aren't built by dreamers. They rise by the patient courage of the change-maker. That's what we have been in New Labour. The change-makers. That's how we must stay. Then the fourth election can be won and the future will be ours to share."

In spite of winning a third successive general election, Labour's conference was an unhappy affair, with no debate on Iraq. Before Blair's speech, Gordon Brown had delivered a wide-ranging oration which made him sound like a Prime Minister in waiting. Blair talked about being a "change-maker" but had little new to say about changes he wanted to make.

2006 "Every day [we] have been in power, children have lived who otherwise would have died because this country led the way in cancelling debt. That's why winning matters. So keep on winning... Next year I won't be making this speech. But in the years to come, wherever I am, whatever I do, I'm with you. Wanting you to win."

Tony Blair was accused of careerism when he was young because he seemed to think that nothing mattered except winning elections. Here you see his answer - that you need power to achieve idealistic goals like saving African children from poverty.

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