Blair rounds on his critics at union conference

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has vented his frustration on Labour activists who yearn for a left-wing government and want him to quit.

Warned that working people felt "betrayed" and that traditional supporters had been "alienated" by his policies, Mr Blair delivered a passionate defence of his record. Speaking after a barrage of criticism from delegates at the GMB general union's annual conference in Blackpool, an uncompromising Mr Blair said his Government had achieved "masses" for ordinary people.

The Prime Minister was addressing an audience who will be expected to act as foot soldiers in Labour's election campaign. But he said the Government had been elected by attracting a "broad coalition of support" and that a left-wing administration was not going to be elected "some time soon".

In response to a question from the floor, Mr Blair said: "You say people are losing faith in the Labour Government, well it's better than having a Tory government. This Government has done masses for ordinary people.

"Pensioners used to have to choose between eating and heating. Don't let anyone tell me that pensioners were better off under the Tories. They weren't."

During successive Conservative governments, he said, school buildings crumbled "and there was not a computer in sight".

It was easy to forget what the 18 years of Tory rule was like," Mr Blair said. "I don't want to see them back ever again. We've make mistakes, but I'm proud of what we've achieved. Long after I've gone, I want to think that Labour prime ministers will be addressing this union. Sometimes they will get a hard time, but it's better than the impotence and waste of opposition."

Mr Blair began a question and answer session to polite ripples of applause, but ended with a standing ovation having brushed aside a query from a delegate who wanted to know when he would stand down.

The Prime Minister had faced hostile questions from delegates on a range of issues including education, health and the Iraq war.

He confirmed that the Government intended to ensure that employers could no longer count bank holidays as part of a worker's legal holiday entitlement. Yesterday the Government published a consultation document on the policy which would give employees a minimum 28 days off a year instead of the present 20.

The additional eight days' holiday will affect an estimated two million people, but the introduction of the new entitlement will be phased in to minimise the impact on employers. The extra time off was granted as part of the Warwick agreement struck by ministers to ensure the financial support of unions in the last general election campaign. Mr Blair told one questioner that the Government would not renege on the deal which covers a range of employment rights. "It's a reasonable package and we are going to implement it and implement it in full."