Blair tries to heal party divide with tribute to Prescott

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair last night used a party celebrating John Prescott's 30 years in parliament to try to heal the divisions within the Labour Party.

Tony Blair last night used a party celebrating John Prescott's 30 years in parliament to try to heal the divisions within the Labour Party.

After a weekend of damaging revelations about cabinet squabbles, the Prime Minister paid a powerful tribute to his deputy and that said Old and New Labour had never felt more at ease.

Mr Blair sought to reassure the party's grassroots before the annual conference, where trade union opposition over pensions policy is expected.

At the function at Hull City Hall marking the Deputy Prime Minister's 30 years as an MP, Mr Blair acknowledged historical splits in the party but said the two sides, represented by he and Mr Prescott, were "closer together than ever".

Mr Blair said that traditional Labour values were safe with his leadership. "You could say we represent the two sides of the Labour Party. We are closer together than ever.

"New Labour and traditional Labour feel more at ease with each other than at any other time I can remember," the Prime Minister said in a speech to Labour members and local dignitaries.

"People who might be seen as traditional Labour can see the values they have always believed in intact and New Labour is about applying those values to the modern age, confident that we are applying modern measures."

Mr Blair's signal that he wants to unify the two wings of the party follows the disclosures at the weekend about serious differences between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

It was also reported that Mo Mowlam, the Cabinet Office Minster, who announced her intention to stand down at the next election, was barely on speaking terms with the Prime Minister.

Mr Blair is believed to have held several conversations with the Chancellor at the weekend. The disclosures about differences over policy, including the euro, were not raised during the discussions.

It is understood that the claim that the Prime Minster rang Charlie Whelan, the Chancellor's former spin-doctor, to clarify the Government's position on the euro, is "inaccurate".

Senior Labour sources said the billions of pounds of extra cash allocated to the health service, transport an education had helped reassure Labour members who feared traditional Labour priorities were being ignored.

Last night, as he entered Hull City Hall, the Prime Minister was greeted by noisy bloodsport supporters protesting about plans to introduce a Bill in the House of Commons banning fox-hunting. They were joined by protesters waving placards about high fuel prices. Among the audience was the mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, which is twinned with Hull.

Mr Blair hailed Mr Prescott as a "great MP and a great campaigner, someone who has always been in politics to get a better deal for the people he represents. No prime minister, no leader of a political party could ask for a better deputy".