Labour to copy Tory fightback strategy

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will order his ministers to relaunch the Government at the Labour conference in autumn by spelling out the policies they would introduce if the party wins a second term.

Labour plans to model the September event on the Conservative Party's successful conference in 1986, when ministers unveiled a series of new measures under the slogan "The Next Moves Forward". The agenda-setting conference enabled Margaret Thatcher to reverse Labour's lead in the opinion polls and paved the away for her 1987 general election victory.

Labour officials are studying media coverage of the Tory conference as they draw up plans for their conference. "We are looking at how governments can make the weather," one source said last night.

The other key elements in Labour's fightback strategy are the publication in July of a three-year government spending programme and a "new Beveridge plan" to reform the National Health Service.

Labour leaders sought to play down an opinion poll showing the party's lead over the Tories had slumped to just seven points and that Mr Blair's personal ratings had plummeted in the past year.

But Mo Mowlam, the Cabinet Office Minister, admitted the Blair administration had to show the voters it was a "listening" government. In a typically frank interview, she told BBC Radio 4: "The lesson we have to learn is that even though we are listening, people don't perceive that we are. That is what we are focusing on and that is what we have to do more to answer."

She added: "What we have to do is get across better what we have achieved and what Tony does. He is a strong leader, he is a determined leader... but if you work with him day in and day out as I do, the caricature is not real but that is what people see."

Ms Mowlam, by far the most popular cabinet minister according to the ICM poll, said she would be happy to become the Labour Party chairman with a brief to revive its fortunes if Mr Blair wanted her to.

However, he is thought unlikely to offer her the post.

Labour officials insisted that the new survey, showing Labour on 41 per cent and the Tories on 34 per cent, merely reflected the "reality" of the public mood and insisted they had always believed the party's huge lead in previous polls had been unrealistic.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "Any government that maintains a lead over the opposition in mid-term is bucking the trend."

Mr Blair wants his ministers to "think and act more politically" and not get bogged down with their departmental briefs. It emerged yesterday that Downing Street had sanctioned last week's plea by Margaret McDonagh, Labour's general secretary, for ministers to do more to sell the Government's policies.

"Gratitude will not drive people to the polls," a Labour source said yesterday. "We need to tell people what we have done but also what we still need to do to complete our project." The source said that Labour's campaign would be based on a "mixture of hope and fear" and said the Tory revival would make it easier for Labour to warn that the Tories would wreck Mr Blair's reforms because they were now seen as a real threat.