The Labour Party in Blackpool: Whitty applauds conference success

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LABOUR'S deputy leader, Margaret Beckett, predicted yesterday that the Conservatives would fall apart at their party conference next week, while John Smith, the party leader, said that Labour's conference this week would prove the launching pad for victory at the next election.

'We did not have an embittered and destructive conference because delegates knew that we fought a vigorous and honest campaign. We told the truth, our opponents did not,' he said in interviews as the party left Blackpool. 'The voters gave John Major the benefit of the doubt - they will never do that again.'

Comparing the success of Labour's low-key but good-humoured conference with the prospects for the Conservatives next week, he said: 'It would be hard to imagine a government that had acted more incompetently. I have never known a situation where a Prime Minister and a Chancellor have gone into their own conference without knowing what their own economic policy is.'

Larry Whitty, the party's general secretary, said that Labour had had an effective conference. 'Three weeks ago, I was waking up with nightmares. I saw a conference with a clamour of recriminations, searching for scapegoats for our failures, delegates turning on the leadership for their past political strategy, leadership candidates publicly contradicting each other and, on top of it all, a massive financial problem.

'Then I thought, why do I need to worry about what happens in Brighton next week?'

Even so, the mood of satisfaction and the laughter were muted. The 'Red Flag' and 'Auld Lang Syne' were sung with the usual conviction, but while last year closed with Queen's 'We are the Champions', this year featured the more prosaic City of Stoke brass band.

Delegates stressed how voters still believed the Tories could deliver on issues such as managing the economy. Labour should drop the apologetic approach and campaign hard to get its message across at local level, they said, combating the negative effect of the Tory press. As Mrs Beckett pointed out, while Labour was less than 1,000 votes behind in 17 seats and less than 4,000 votes in 60, it still lost the election.

Mrs Beckett, the party's campaigns organiser, said work at local level made the difference between success and failure. 'In recent years we have transformed our party's campaigning at national level. We are the most professional, the most effective - simply the best. But there has been a tendency to think this is how elections are won. It's not.'

Dorothy Macedo, of Hendon South CLP, said: 'We have been embarrassed to be involved in campaigns. We have been aloof, looking like a government in waiting. We've got some excellent policies. Let's campaign on them and stop apologising.'