If Tony Blair wants to win back his party, this is the speech he needs to make

In the hope the break has prepared him to take a change of direction, this column offers a draft conference speech
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The Independent Online

This weekend, Tony Blair returns from his summer break. Personally, I do not grudge him the respite. I would much rather have a prime minister who enjoyed a holiday than one like Margaret Thatcher who had to be prised out of Downing Street.

This weekend, Tony Blair returns from his summer break. Personally, I do not grudge him the respite. I would much rather have a prime minister who enjoyed a holiday than one like Margaret Thatcher who had to be prised out of Downing Street.

On previous practice, there will be a folder awaiting Tony Blair's return with proposals for his Labour conference speech. In the hope that the break has prepared him to take a bold, fresh change of direction, this column offers its own draft of what he should say. I recognise, of course, that he may wish to tone it down in places to fit his own emollient style:

"First a word about the person who is not this year's international speaker. It is true that, before I left for Barbados, I had thought of inviting Iyad Allawi. You will understand why I would be tempted to ask him. For the past year, I have been convinced that if I kept telling you the case for the invasion of Iraq you would eventually grasp I was right and you were wrong.

"By the time I got to Sardinia, it no longer seemed likely that a speech from the Prime Minister of Iraq would do the trick. The famous handover of sovereignty has not brought security to Iraq, and there has been as much bloodshed in the months since as there was in the months before. Nor can I go on blaming the violence on former Baathists as the new Prime Minister himself is a former Baathist.

"The human, financial and political cost of the occupation of Iraq has been so much heavier than any of us imagined at the time that no sane person would dream of repeating it. It will remain unique. A one-off. Those who opposed the war can be reassured that if they vote Labour it will not happen again.

"It would help to convince them of that if George Bush was defeated in the presidential election. I cannot publicly take sides in a US election, but I want everyone on both sides of the Atlantic to understand that if John Kerry wins I will be over there by Christmas with my snowboard, bonding with him as devotedly as I did with either of his predecessors. And between ourselves, it will be a huge relief to work with someone who is not in denial about global warming and does not imagine that we can halt Aids by preaching celibacy.

"It should be easy for me to find common ground with John Kerry because he shares my political style of ignoring his core voters and tethering his appeal to the floating voters in the middle. That is probably a sensible strategy for him because US politics is a two-horse race, and his core voters are so desperate to see the back of Bush that they would vote for the Democratic candidate if he spent next month insulting them. But I have been spending some of my time by the pool wondering whether British politics can still be polarised into a straight choice between me and Michael Howard.

"The truth is that nobody now believes the Tory party can win a majority at the next election other than in a freak result which would leave the nation clamouring for a recount. Frankly, I don't think I have ever been given the credit I deserve for the problems of the Tory party. Their big problem is that I can spot faster than them any opening for a right-wing attack, and then I beat them to the punch by making it myself. I have so successfully colonised all the traditional conservative issues of law and order, immigration and taxation that I have left no space to the right of me for the Tory party to occupy without making themselves look like wild extremists. For the time being, the Tory party does not know where to turn without finding that I've got there first.

"I made my reputation as a politician who could sense seismic shifts before they happen. I labelled myself a moderniser. It would be an odd irony if I went in to my last election with an outdated strategy that assumed British politics is still as polarised between the two big parties as my first election. It is not. The real threat at the next election is not that too many people will be tempted to vote Tory, but that not enough of them will feel motivated to vote Labour.

"This was always a risk of my political strategy. By adopting the clothes, language and friends of our opponents, I confused our supporters and weakened their identity with the Government. The real risk to Labour at the next election is that more of those supporters will stay at home, and many of those who do vote will have a fling with one of the growing fringe of third party alternatives.

"I can't remove that risk by spreading alarm at the nightmare consequences of a Howard victory which would surprise no one more than himself. The more I attack Michael Howard, the more I turn off voters who decide the two of us richly deserve each other and have nothing to say to the rest of Britain. If I want to win back the Labour voters who have absconded to the Liberal Democrats or lapsed into abstention, I need to convince them not that the Tories would be bad for them but that Labour has been good for them.

"Fortunately, I have a good story to tell about what Labour has done for its core voters. No previous government has invested more than this one in lifting children out of poverty through the tax and benefits system, or been more successful in removing unemployment from the political agenda. Until now, I have pursued a strategy of social justice through stealth for fear of alienating the aspirant Daily Mail reader. Not any more. If I want those who have benefited most from Labour to re-elect me, I had better start telling them how well they have done. Expect a lot fewer photos of me with eccentric foreign leaders in bandanas, and, instead, groundbreaking shots of me visiting the many urban regeneration schemes we have funded in inner cities or hosting receptions at No 10 for workers who got their biggest ever increase from the minimum wage.

"Just before the break, I warned everybody that there has to be an end to party infighting. It was good advice and I have decided to accept it myself. I promise not to ask again Labour MPs to stand on their heads and vote for policies they opposed at the last election such as tuition fees. Or to undermine the ethos of the public services by commercialising them, contracting out their services and privatising their capital finance. It is a great paradox that I have delivered the biggest ever investment in the NHS and simultaneously provoked the greatest alienation of the NHS workforce from the Labour Party. In future, I will seek language that portrays NHS staff as partners in change rather than obstacles to reform.

"In short, the new electoral environment requires me to find a political style that motivates the decent, progressive people of Britain to support our values instead of appeasing conservative opinion. This brings me to the replacement choice for international speaker - a radical leader who has just won his fourth electoral success by motivating his supporters to turn out in record numbers to support his programme of social fairness. I ask you to join me in a standing ovation to welcome to Labour conference President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela."