Blair says change `unstoppable'

LABOUR DAY: Party leader in confident mood at end of Clause IV tour and start of local elections campaign
Click to follow
Indy Politics

Chief Political Correspondent

Tony Blair last night ended a national crusade to change his party's Clause IV with a warning to trade union bosses that the mood for change in the party was unstoppable.

Addressing his 25th meeting with grass-roots supporters, the Labour leader made it clear to the trade unions that hold 70 per cent of the votes, and others in the party resisting change, that the modernisation would continue. "If you don't change, a movement becomes a monument,'' he said.

Mr Blair's rally in Lewisham marked the end of his tour across the country to win support among party constituency members, who will carry 30 per cent of the votes, to change the constitutional commitment to public ownership at the special conference on 29 April.

The public wanted a new, fresh start in British politics, Mr Blair said. "They are listening to new Labour and liking it. We are back as the mainstream majority party in Britain."

The Labour leadership believes Mr Blair, backed by his deputy, John Prescott, has the support of up to 80 per cent of the constituency members. The Blair campaign has been hailed as a success. Mr Blair said last night that modernisation was the key to progress on the road back to power.

"To say we are closet Tories ... is absurd," he said. Labour was now talking for the mainstream majority in Britain. It was essential to build trust with the electorate.

"Modernising must continue ... don't let people say this may put off traditional Labour supporters. They want a Labour government and one that will address their aspirations."

"The change to Clause IV is the expression of this trust. No-one during the whole of my journey up and down the country has seriously suggested that the present Clause IV is a proper explanation of where Labour is today.

"There is overwhelming support for change among party members," he affirmed.

There was no longer a discrepancy between what Labour said to the public and what it professed. "It is politics that is clear, simple and straight. After 16 years of Tory government, nothing could be more essential," Mr Blair said.

Bill Morris, leader of the TGWU, has called for the minimum wage to be set at £4 an hour. But the Labour leadership is unlikely to fix a figure until around the time of the next election.

The defeat last week for Mr Blair's campaign by Unison, the public service union, was a blow to the leadership. But he still expects to win the vote.

Mr Blair's supporters point out that unions, including Unison and the TGWU, opposed to changing Clause 1V have not consulted their members in a ballot. Unions that consulted their members in ballots were backing change, they said.

That view is not shared by the Defend Clause IV campaign. It said a Unison internal survey, published in the Independent, revealed opposition to change. Attacks by members of teachers' unions on the policy of modernisation underlined resistance to Mr Blair's message, although it involved activists from the Socialist Workers' Party.

The outcome may depend on the GMB union and the MSF, which have not declared their voting intentions, and on Usdaw, the shopworkers' union. Mr Blair will make an appeal to Usdaw members at their conference next week.