Blair to portray Labour as patriotic party in campaign on 'Britishness'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will launch a campaign next week to portray Labour as the "patriotic party" in an attempt to prevent the Conservatives wrapping themselves in the British flag at the next general election.

The Prime Minister will make the first of a series of speeches by cabinet heavyweights on the theme of "Britishness" in which they will argue that Labour is "standing up for Britain".

Mr Blair believes national identity will be an important election issue as the Tories seek to play the "euro card" after ruling out joining the single currency in the next Parliament. Downing Street aides deny the decision to launch a debate on "Britishness" is part of Mr Blair's plan to prepare British public opinion for eventual membership of the single European currency.

He told close colleagues he wants his historical legacy to be a prime minister who defined a new identity and role in the world for Britain. "To succeed as a nation, he believes we must have a clear sense of national purpose," one Blair aide said last night.

Mr Blair believes Margaret Thatcher was right to recognise the need for Britain to reinvent itself and rediscover a vital self-confidence. But he wants to avoid what he regards as the "narrow nationalism" and "island fortress mentality" of today's Tories.

"We have to show that being patriotic does not mean being anti-European," one minister said. "The English Channel is not a moat; it is a highway."

Mr Blair will not change Labour's "prepare and decide" policy on the single currency, but his campaign will be welcomed by pro-Europeans who accused the Government of "drift" over its failure to make the case for British membership.

His speeches will also set the agenda for a second Labour term. Others will be made by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, and Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor.

On Tuesday, Mr Blair will tell the Newspaper Conference that Labour is fighting for Britain in four ways: on the economy; by cementing the unity of the United Kingdom through devolution rather than dismantling it as the Tories claim; and on cultural and social issues. He will say Labour now represents the core values of the British people.

* Labour attacked Michael Portillo, the shadow Chancellor, for comparing Stephen Byers, the Trade Secretary, with Neville Chamberlain. After Mr Byers met BMW bosses over their decision to break up Rover, Mr Portillo said: "Stephen Byers comes back from Munich with a bit of paper - rings a bell, doesn't it?"

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