The Labour Party in Blackpool: Blair spells out conditions needed for election victory: Anthony Bevins talks to the shadow Home Secretary about the state of the party, on the eve of its annual gathering

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TONY BLAIR believes Labour lost the last election because it had not convinced the voters that it could deliver the improved services and stronger community it had promised.

'I don't believe the underlying Tory message is fantastically popular with people,' he said on the eve of this week's party conference.

'And I don't believe either that it is the case that people have changed; that they're totally selfish, greedy, don't care about other people. I don't accept that. But what they need to be sure of is that if they vote Labour, then they're getting a government that is going to improve their prosperity, increase their individual aspirations, but do it within a strong and fair community.'

He said the Labour message that investment would improve the individual's quality of life was a powerful one.

'The message of the Labour Party is not to pit self-interest against community interest. The message is that unless you co-operate, unless you work together to achieve certain ends, each one of us is not as well off.

'If you cannot get that message across, then that is a central failure of Labour. That is what you have to convince them of.'

Mr Blair, 39, is one of a new generation of highly articulate Labour leaders. He was first elected to Parliament in 1983, and has never been in government. By the time of the next election, with the Conservatives having been in office for a record 17 years, that could be an advantage if recent form is anything to go by. The lapse of time might also, by then, have eroded public memories of Labour's past; the political legacies, like the trade union links, that have so obstructed the party's modernisation over recent years.

Mr Blair says: 'People saw, at the beginning of the Labour Party, the public- sector institutions as a means of the community taking on vested interests in the interests of the individual. By the end of the 1970s, people had perceived that those same institutions had become vested interests in themselves. Thatcherism was a reaction to that.'

But he believes the pendulum has swung the other way; that the Conservatives are now seen as the protectors of vested interest in the form of privatised, monopolistic utilities, and City institutions.

As for law and order, Mr Blair sees another potential weak spot in the Tory case. 'Thirteen years ago, the Tories may have been able to respond to rising crime by saying, 'Well, we'll just have tougher sentences', or respond to the problems of large numbers of unemployed people by saying, 'Well, you know, they should just get on their bikes and look for work'.

'But 13 years on, these things have not worked. In fact, these problems have intensified. There is no excuse for crime. Those who commit crime have got to be caught and punished according to law. There is no question about that. But to deny the link between the alienation of a certain group of people from the community mainstream and crime is just absurd. It plainly is there.

'If you're not giving people hope and opportunity within the culture of the mainstream, they will adopt their own counter-culture.'

But Mr Blair also believes that the police have to be more firmly rooted within their own communities.

He feels that the Conservative government, as a reaction to its own failure in dealing with rising crime, is now attempting to shift the blame on to the police and their internal structures - an idea he describes as 'ridiculous'.

Mr Blair accepts that miscarriages of justice have changed public perceptions of the police, but says their unpopularity has been exaggerated.

'Out there, people want more police on the beat, they want a more physical presence; it's a mistake to think there's some huge popular disaffection with the police altogether. But people want to feel that they have some role in policing policy in their own areas, some say in what they consider important.

'The problem is not that, as it were, everyone thinks that the police are crooks; I don't think that's true. But they do believe the police are remote.'

(Photograph omitted)