Time for 'bold' reforms, vows Blair

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Brushing aside the concerns of some activists and union leaders about the consumer and market-orientated flavour of previous reforms, Mr Blair stressed that his prescription for the challenges facing the UK is a further dose of New Labour.

Delivering his keynote speech to Labour's annual conference in Brighton, Mr Blair insisted: "The world is on the move again; the change in the early 21st century is even greater than that of the late 20th century.

"So now in turn, we have to change again. Not step back from New Labour but step up to a new mark a changing world is setting for us".

The Labour leader, who urged his party to renew itself in office to be fit to face future challenges, signalled further reforms to the NHS, education, transport and the economy.

And on law and order, Mr Blair again emphasised his 'respect' agenda.

The scope of the programme laid out by Mr Blair is sure to be interpreted as a signal that despite continuing speculation about his future, he is not planning to quit the leadership any time soon.

Mr Blair has said that he will serve a full third term in Downing Street, before standing down ahead of the next General Election.

It is also likely to be seen as an attempt to secure his personal political legacy, by putting in place reforms which will leave a lasting impression on British society.

Mr Blair warned his party that it must attack the business of government withvigour if it is to enthuse the voters, and that it must tackle head on thechallenges posed by globalisation and related developments.

He cautioned: "The danger of government is fatigue: the benefit, experience.

"I tell you my conclusion after eight years as Prime Minister. The challenge we face is not in our values. It is how we put them into practice in a world fast forwarding to the future at unprecedented speed."

Mr Blair argued that Labour had won the "battle of values", by promoting social justice, tolerance and respect.

But he cautioned: "Values don't change. But times do. And now, as before, our values have to be applied anew in changing times.

"The challenge is policy and not item by item, but attitude by attitude, direction by direction, in the bold strokes that define the picture not only the small movements that paint the detail."

He stressed: "The battle is not yet won to secure the future. It is here that the new realities come upon us, snuffing out the lights of victory celebration and urging us to renew yet again."

Mr Blair highlighted the challenges posed to the British economy byglobalisation.

He warned: "The character of the changing world ... is replete with opportunities, but they only go to those swift to adapt, slow to complain, open, willing and able to change.

"Unless we 'own' the future, unless our values are matched by a completely honest understanding of the reality now upon us and the next about to hit us, we will fail.

"And then the values we believe in, become idle sentiments ripe for disillusion and disappointment.

"In the era of rapid globalisation, there is no mystery about what works: an open, liberal economy, prepared constantly to change to remain competitive."

Mr Blair paid tribute to Chancellor Gordon Brown, widely regarded as his mostlikely successor as Prime Minister.

Mr Blair told his audience that the Government had laid sound foundations on the economy and public service reform. Pointing to Mr Brown on the platform, Mr Blair said: "Only one Chancellor (has) delivered that economic record. This one."

Mr Brown smiled appreciatively.

Turning to his reform agenda, Mr Blair highlighted the Government's efforts to improve people's work-life balance.

He promised that over the next few years, the Government would open up a "new frontier" of the welfare state, with "wrap-around childcare between the hours of 8am to 6pm for all who need it."

He promised that New Labour would get more people off benefit and into work. In a move sure to provoke controversy, Mr Blair flagged up major reform of Incapacity Benefit.

"Next month, we will publish proposals radically to reform the benefit for the future and help people who can work, back into the workforce where they belong."

Mr Blair said that the Government will receive the report of the commission examining the future of pensions in December, and publish plans for reform next year.

Mr Blair said that alongside a state pension, there would be a "simple easyway for people to save and to reap the rewards of their savings."

The Prime Minister revealed that next year the Government will publish proposals on energy policy.

He cautioned that global warming is "too serious for the world any longer to ignore its danger or split into opposing factions on it".

The energy review would assess all the options, including, he stressed, a new generation of civil nuclear power stations.

On transport, the Government will continue to examine new options for funding improvements to the infrastructure, including road pricing.

On local government, he promised a "new and ambitious blueprint" strengthening the leadership of cities, giving good councils new freedoms and devolving more power to neighbourhoods.

Mr Blair reiterated that during the Parliament, home ownership will increase by one million, with particular help going to young families struggling to be first-time buyers.

To ensure a stream of funding for reforms, Mr Blair said that next summer the Government will publish departmental savings reviews.

Mr Blair signalled further reforms to schools and hospitals.

He told his audience: "I will never return us to selection aged 11 in our schools. I will never allow the NHS to charge for treatment."

But he continued: "Every time I've ever introduced a reform in Government, I wish in retrospect I had gone further."

He went on: "The NHS reforms, to break down the old monolith, bring in new providers, allow patients choice, must continue."

He added: "This autumn, we will publish our Education White Paper. It will open up the system to new providers and new partners, allow greater parental choice, expand Foundation, Academy and extended schools."

He stressed: "If there's one thing above all that motivates me it is to redeem the pledge I made to give the chance of a first-class education not only for Britain's elite but for all Britain's children."

On law and order, Mr Blair signalled that the Government will press on with itsplans to introduce a national identity card scheme.

Mr Blair said the criminal justice system was still trying to fight 21st century problems with 19th century, if not Dickensian, methods.

He flagged up a radical extension of summary powers to police and local authorities, focusing on binge-drinking, drug dealing and organised crime, and development of the existing laws on anti-social behaviour.

Plans will be published by the end of this year, he said.

Secondly, Mr Blair said Britain needed a uniformed presence on the street in every community, and promised pilot schemes will be spread across Britain in the next few years.

Thirdly, young people will be given places to go to ensure that they are off the streets, with more investment in youth services.

Problem families, he said, will be identified early and a single agency will be tasked with addressing their problems, equipped with sanctions if necessary.

On Europe, Mr Blair said it would be "crazy" for Britain to isolate itselffrom its largest commercial market.

On his relationship with US President George Bush, Mr Blair said: " Britain should also remain the strongest ally of the US ... I never doubted after September 11 that our place was alongside America and I don't doubt it now."

On Iraq, Mr Blair insisted: "The way to stop the innocent dying is not to retreat, to withdraw, to hand these people over to the mercy of religious fanatics or relics of Saddam, but to stand up for their right to decide their Government in the same democratic way the British people do."

And on terrorism, he cautioned: "Strip away their fake claims of grievance and see them for what they are: terrorists who use 21st century technology to fight a pre-medieval religious war that is utterly alien to the future of mankind."

On Labour's political opponents, Mr Blair told delegates that the principal enemy will remain the Tories.

"My advice: never underestimate the Tories; never over-estimate the Lib Dems." He also sought to underline the importance of strong leadership.

"One thing I've learnt ... and it is now so ingrained it's like a strip of granite running through my being. It's about leadership. Not mine alone. Ours together. It's about facing hard challenges and meeting them ...

"Government is not a state of office but a state of mind. A willingness to accept the burden of true leadership."

Concluding his speech, Mr Blair told his audience: "Some day, some party willmake this country at ease with globalisation. Let it be this one.

"Some day, we will forge a new consensus on our public services. Let it be us who believe in them and let us do it now ...

"Let ours be the party, the one with the values of social justice, equality, fairness, that helps Britain turn a friendly face to the future."

Citing Britain's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics as evidence of what can be achieved when a nation aspires and is prepared to reform, Mr Blair said: "That's what we have been in New Labour. The change-makers. That's how he must stay. Then the fourth election can be won and the future will be ours to share."

Mr Blair, who spoke for around 50 minutes, won a six minute standing ovation from the audience.

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