Unrepentant Blair ready to face down party rebels

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Tony Blair is to deliver an uncompromising message to the Labour Party that he will extend his reform of public services and reject calls to slow the pace of modernisation.

Tony Blair is to deliver an uncompromising message to the Labour Party that he will extend his reform of public services and reject calls to slow the pace of modernisation.

As the Prime Minister returns from his month-long summer break in Barbados, Italy and Greece, he is being urged by some advisers to "rebuild bridges" with the party by avoiding more controversial reforms in the run-up to the general election pencilled in for May.

Those allies say the move would help to heal the wounds left by the Iraq war. "We have got to reach out to the party so that we go into the election as a united force," one said.

But Mr Blair is expected to use his speech to Labour's annual conference next month to map out a strong "forward agenda" to show that the Government has not run out of steam. It will be based on the five-year plans for health, education, crime and transport published this summer, which will be followed by similar blueprints for other Whitehall departments this autumn.

The strategy, called "five-year plans plus" by Labour strategists, will worry "consolidators" urging Mr Blair to woo his party critics. "He is not going to slow down on reform," one aide said yesterday.

The Prime Minister, who told Labour activists last month that he had "come through the fire", left for his holiday in a stronger than expected position after confounding speculation that he would stand down before the election. But a strong undercurrent of discontent in the party about his leadership remains and may surface at the Brighton conference.

Mr Blair has sought to avoid a head-on confrontation about Iraq by dropping plans to invite Iyad Allawi, the head of the interim Iraqi government, to address Labour delegates. Although Blair allies hope Labour will focus on the need to win an unprecedented third term, he will defend the decision to oust Saddam Hussein, and reject calls for him to promise there will be "no more Iraqs".

Critics of Mr Blair expect him to "play the unity card" by demanding that the party put its differences behind it to prevent the Conservative Party mounting a pre-election fightback, and win a big as majority as possible.

One concession to the party will be a long-awaited move to outlaw fox hunting. A Bill is expected to be rushed through the Commons next month and then sent to the Lords in October.

The Government has offered some sweeteners to the trade unions in an attempt to avoid damaging rows at the Labour and TUC conferences. Mr Blair will address the TUC gathering in Brighton next month.

Ministers have promised to end the practice of private firms who take over public services employing new recruits on less favourable conditions; to stop companies counting public holidays as part of the 20 days annual leave guaranteed by law; and to protect striking workers from dismissal for 12 weeks instead of the current eight.

Blair aides hope the approaching election will prevent "blood being spilled" at the conference. But John McDonnell, chairman of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, said: "There are signs within the trade unions, and even within the party's declining membership, of a grim determination to fight back."

Comments