Prime Minister pitches to the 'crockery-throwers'

Humble yet supremely self-confident, contrite yet unapologetic, forward not backward, there was a new kind of Tony Blair on show yesterday. The tone and delivery of the Prime Minister's speech was in marked contrast with his previous conference presentations, delivering a tone of self-deprecation, admitting many people really do not like him.

There was none of the rhetorical statements of philosophy which have characterised earlier speeches, such as Gordon Brown's "progressive consensus" which has taxed commentators since.

Instead we were treated to a classically smooth ­ some might say manipulative ­ Tony Blair performance, this time using anecdotes and personal self-analysis to make his pitch, using the politics of the personal to try to reconnect with the public, his public.

Mr Blair referred to how the mood of the country changed after the heady days that followed Labour's 1997 election victory: "So after the euphoria came the steady hard slog of decision-making and delivery and the events that tested me. And the media mood turning and friends sometimes being lost as the big decisions mounted and the thousand little things that irritate and grate.

"And then all of a sudden there you are, the British people, thinking: you're not listening and I think; you're not hearing me. And before you know it you raise your voice. I raise mine. Some of you throw a bit of crockery."

Mr Blair used the device of his personal experiences talking to ordinary voters to illustrate the party's six staccato, verb-free, pledge soundbites, widely criticised on Friday.

The man who once declared, "I don't have a reverse gear", repeatedly used the party's election theme of Forward not Back. But he did own up to one reverse move when he appealed to his party, saying: "I'm back, and it feels good."

In sections designed to counter the belief that he is arrogant and unwilling to listen, he freely used the language of the counsellor's couch, admitting that a lot of people's anger at the Government was "about me". He spoke about "my relationship with the country", sounding like a lost pop star, as he said: "Everyone thinks they know you. Everyone has a view. Sometimes the view is settled. You're a good thing. Sometimes it's settled the other way."

This is all part of Labour's strategy to bring its election campaign to the level of the ordinary person in the pub.

Mr Blair spoke of former supporters as "old friends" who needed to be won back to the fold. The Prime Minister described the conversations he had with real people to illustrate his point.

But there was still the old messianic undertone of Mr Blair striving to make Britain a better place for all. He said he "felt anger" because patients still had to wait up to six months for an operation. He said parents had said it was a pity a new breakfast club for children was the exception not the rule. He said: "I thought there is still so much to do, so many lives still not what they could be, so many opportunities for happiness and security not delivered when with time and effort they could."

He still nodded to the language of New Labour, and won applause, telling the party faithful: "We got here only by being New Labour. We will stay only by being New Labour." It was "traditional values in a modern setting". His speech was much the same. It boiled down to the familiar message of "a lot done, a lot still to do" that was the theme of the last general election but repackaged with humility. Of course, it is all spin in the end, but Labour believes its new, humble Tony Blair will prove third time lucky.

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