The Labour Party in Blackpool: Blair urges politics of courage and trust: 'If the world changes and we don't, we become of no use to the world,' leader says. Stephen Goodwin reports

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The Independent Online
THE TIDE of ideas in British politics was at last on the turn, Tony Blair told the Blackpool conference as he outlined his project of political and national renewal.

In an hour-long address, the party leader prepared delegates for the jettisoning of Labour's traditional commitment to state control and the drafting of a modern constitution. 'Parties that do not change die, and this party is a living movement not an historical monument. If the world changes and we don't, then we become of no use to the world. Our principles cease being principles and just ossify into dogma.'

Citing last year's introduction of one-member one-vote, Mr Blair said the party had not changed to forget its principles but to fulfil them. Change was an important part of gaining the nation's trust.

He and John Prescott, the deputy leader, are to propose an up-to- date statement of Labour's objectives to the National Executive Committee. He wanted the whole party to debate it. 'If it is accepted then let it become the objects of our party for the next election and take its place in our constitution for the next century.'

Mr Blair said the public was not looking to Labour for a revolution. It wanted the party to make a start. He went on: 'I want you with me in that task. I want you with me, head and heart.'

The one big obstacle in the way of the party's plans for change was the greatest legacy of the Tory years - 'disillusion with politics itself'. He wanted a new politics of courage, honesty and trust. It meant being open and not opposing everything every other party did for the sake of it. 'If the Government are getting it right, as they are over Northern Ireland, we give credit.'

Pointing up two controversial conference issues, he said it also meant being honest with each other. 'Leadership is about having the courage to say 'no' as well as 'yes'.

'Even this week I have heard people saying a Labour government must repeal all the Tory trade union laws.' No one believed that to be realistic. 'No one believes strike ballots should be abandoned. So why do we say it? We shouldn't and I won't.

'I am absolutely committed to the goal of full employment. We will develop plans to achieve it. But let's not pretend that we can deliver it overnight.

'Let's not seek to fool the unemployed into thinking we will walk into power on Thursday and they will walk into a job on Friday.' Mr Blair said Mr Prescott would announce the biggest programme of political education undertaken by any party in Britain for a generation. This was central not just in helping to build membership but in engaging members in helping shape the party's future. 'Let us have the confidence once again that we can debate new ideas, new thinking, without forever fearing the taunt of betrayal.'

He said people were tired of dogma and politicians' glib promises broken as readily in office as they were made on the soapbox. 'When we make a promise, we must be sure we can keep it.'

Labour was putting forward the biggest programme of change to democracy ever proposed by a political party, he said. It included a Bill of Rights, parliaments for Scotland and Wales, Tory quangos to be brought back under democratic control, and a Freedom of Information Act.

The investigative powers of the Commons would be made more effective, the number of women MPs increased and the voting powers of hereditary peers abolished. 'We will tighten the rules of financing of political parties. And since trade unions are balloted on their political contribution, it is only fair that in this free country shareholders are balloted on theirs.'

Opening his first conference speech as party leader, Mr Blair said the party met in a spirit of hope - hope that change would come and they would rid Britain of the Tory government with its discredited philosophy.

Labour had already begun its task, winning more than 2,500 new seats in the May council elections, four by-elections, and record numbers of European Parliament seats. By the end of this month, membership would have passed the 300,000 mark. In a brief passage on international matters, Mr Blair said Britain's interests demanded that the country was 'at the forefront' of the development of the new Europe. 'Of course Europe should change. Of course we should stand up for British interests as others stand up for theirs. Indeed, we should take on the Common Agricultural Policy costing the average British family pounds 20 a week and about which the Tories do nothing. But the Tories are playing politics with Europe and the future of this country. Under my leadership, I will never allow this country to be isolated or left behind in Europe.'

Mr Blair said Labour was back as the party of the majority in British politics. The Tories had abused the trust of parents who wanted their children taught in classrooms that were not crumbling, of men and women who got up in the morning and found the kitchen door smashed in and the video gone again, of small businesses pushed to the wall and employees living in fear of the P45.

Fifteen years after Margaret Thatcher stood on the steps of Downing Street, 3 million people were jobless, almost 6 million were on income support and one in three children growing up in poverty. Tax was up pounds 800 a year for the average family and pounds 118bn in North Sea oil revenues had been wasted. 'It is time to take these Tories apart for what they have done to our country. Not because they lack compassion, though they do. But because they are the most feckless, irresponsible group of incompetents ever let loose in the government of Britain.'

Turning to his theme of 'community', Mr Blair said the Tories were no more the party of the family than they were the party of law and order. The Tory view was, 'you are on your own'. Families worked best when members helped and sustained each other. The same was true of communities and of nations. 'Community is not some piece of nostalgia. It means what we share . . . working together . . . and about how we treat each other. So we teach our children to take pride in their school, their town, their country. We teach them self- respect and we teach them respect for others too. Market forces cannot educate us or equip us for this world of rapid technological and economic change. We must do it together. . . We must work for it together. A belief in society. Working together. Solidarity. Co- operation. Partnership. These are our words. This is my socialism. And we should stop apologising for using the word. It is not the socialism of Marx or state control. It is rooted in a straightforward view of society.'

He reaffirmed the goal of full unemployment, but warned it would take time. Above all the weaknesses of the economy had to be conquered. 'It won't be done by state control. But it won't be done by market dogma. It can only be done by a dynamic economy based on partnership between government and industry, between employer and employee and between public and private sector.'

Education would be the passion of his government, Mr Blair promised. 'I know how important the education of my children is to me. I will not tolerate children going to run-down schools with bad discipline, low standards, mediocre expectations or poor teachers.'

'If schools are bad, they should be made to be good. If teachers can't teach properly they shouldn't be teaching at all.'

Education and the health service should not be left to market forces and neither should the railways nor the Post Office, he said. Returning to a familiar theme as a former home affairs spokesman, Mr Blair said Labour was now the party of law and order. He repeated the need for an approach that was 'tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime'. There had to be measures to tackle juvenile offending and crimes of violence should be properly punished but also a comprehensive crime-prevention programme and an anti-drugs initiative.

There should also be 'long-term measures to break the culture of drugs, family instability, high unemployment, and urban squalor in which some of the worst criminals are brought up'.

Labour would produce a tax system that was fair and related to ability to pay. Abuses should be ended so that ordinary families were not squeezed to pay for the privileged. Indicating the integration of tax and benefits, he said the welfare state had to change to help people get off benefits. 'The Tories will cut benefits and make poverty worse. We will put welfare to work. A nation at work, not on benefit. That is our pledge.'

(Photograph omitted)

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