Tony Blair today accused the Tories of "denigrating everything" about Britain's public services as the row over the treatment of 94–year–old Rose Addis continued to dominate the political agenda.
The Prime Minister praised the dedication of public service workers, putting in "millions of hours of unpaid overtime" and providing services that were often "stunningly successful".
While he acknowledged that not everything in the public services was perfect, he said the debate could not be a matter of one individual case, "no matter how hotly contested".
In a speech in Newcastle, the premier accused the Government's opponents of deliberately undermining public services in an attempt to convince voters that they were not worth saving.
"At present they confine themselves to denigrating everything about the public services – running them down, saying the services are lousy – so that people feel it's all hopeless, nothing works, that any investment is just wasted money.
"Each individual case of actual or perceived service failure, accepted or disputed, true or false, is luridly headlined in order to demoralise us all.
"It denigration for a purpose: to argue that the public services aren't worth saving."
Mr Blair went out of his way to emphasise the commitment of staff working in the National Health Service and other key services, who still found themselves subjected to critical media reporting.
"To the papers, a real life NHS story is today's frenzy and tomorrow's fish and chip wrapper. To the nurse and doctor it is their integrity, their life, today, tomorrow, the next day," he said.
To such people, public service was not "some vague notion", but something "real" and "good" which helped bind the country together.
"It is the millions of hours of unpaid overtime. It is the doctor willing to get out of bed in the middle of the night to see a young child. It is the teacher who in his spare time runs the school football team," he said.
"It is the policewoman with the guts to take on a group of anti–social kids yelling abuse on the street corner. It is the head teacher who stands up for his staff when they are confronted by abusive parents.
"These are talented people. Many of them could earn more elsewhere. But they choose public service and they deserve our respect. They should have it."
In a clear rejoinder to Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith – who yesterday vowed to stand up for ordinary people like Mrs Addis against the "machine" – Mr Blair said fighting for better public services meant supporting the staff who worked in them.
"I say to those who are undermining our public services: if you're on the side of the people who use public services, you should be on the side of the people who work in public services as they make the reforms vital to those services.
"If you're on the side of the patient, you should be on the side of the nurse, the doctor, the hospital staff."
John Edmonds, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "This is a significant change in tone from the Prime Minister that we warmly welcome.
"It wasn't so long ago that Tony Blair was complaining about the 'scars on his back' that he received from NHS workers, but it seems that the Government has finally started to realise the public services can only be achieved by working with rather than against public service workers.
"Our members will now be watching closely to see that these positive words are followed by positive action."Reuse content