Mr Blair may understand how Labour can win again, but he has yet to regain the voters' trust

Share
Related Topics

No one who watched the Prime Minister's address to his party conference can be in much doubt: barring unforeseen events, the next time the Labour Party meets for its annual gathering by the sea, the general election is likely to be over. We will know whether the "unique possibility" Mr Blair dangled before delegates yesterday of a third term of Labour government has come to pass.

No one who watched the Prime Minister's address to his party conference can be in much doubt: barring unforeseen events, the next time the Labour Party meets for its annual gathering by the sea, the general election is likely to be over. We will know whether the "unique possibility" Mr Blair dangled before delegates yesterday of a third term of Labour government has come to pass.

This was an election rallying call. Perhaps deliberately, though, it was not the high-flown, inspirational appeal to the party faithful that they might have expected as a pre-campaign valediction. It was rather a carefully structured, nuts-and-bolts kind of statement that told the party and the voters what Mr Blair believes he has to do to win that elusive third term.

As Mr Blair told it, his main tasks are three. The party has to put on a united face and reconnect with the voters. It has to have a set of policies that will appeal to a clear, core group of voters - defined as "hard-working families". Finally, it has to overcome its biggest handicap: the issue of trust and the Iraq war.

On items one and two, Mr Blair was largely right about the issues and more persuasive than not. He was laudably aggressive in his defence of "choice" as something that voters were entitled to and wanted, and in drawing a distinction between "choice", as reflecting people's equal status as citizens, and what he defined as "Tory words" - choice dependent upon wealth. He was also masterly in offering a synthesis between his government's record of achievements, born of what he called "steadfast conviction", and a list of 10 policy objectives, born of what he called "restless courage", designed to lessen the renewed friction between Blairites and Brownites since the return to the Cabinet of Alan Milburn.

There are grounds for quibbling. It is disingenuous, to say the least, to undertake to "remove" from the country more people than apply to stay, while at the same time promising never to "play politics with the issue of race". There was a gratuitous swipe at the Lib Dems on the grounds that "no one knows what they stand for". We know well where they stand on many of the issues that will be key to the next election. They are pro-Europe - Mr Blair offered only the barest of glancing references to the EU - generously disposed towards immigration, pro-environment - an area on which Mr Blair was disgracefully silent - and united in their opposition to the Iraq war.

The extent to which Mr Blair is still handicapped, and has handicapped his party, by supporting military action in Iraq was evident from the protests in the hall and the discomfort of many in his audience. Iraq also accounted for the section of his speech that was strongest on conviction and rhetoric, while at the same time, politically and logically, the weakest.

That Mr Blair decided to address the controversy over Iraq "head-on" was courageous, even if, after Peter Hain was forced to retract his description of the issue as "trivial", he had precious little choice. The terms in which he did it, though, were as evasive and manipulative as ever, and as irresponsibly heedless of the current reality in Iraq.

Time and again, Mr Blair falsified the terms of the debate. He said he could apologise for the information (about Iraq's weapons) that turned out to be wrong, "but I can't sincerely apologise for removing Saddam". So why was it that this country went to war? He claimed there had been an "international consensus" about the weapons, but failed to add that there had been no consensus at all on the need for military action. As for the disastrous aftermath, Mr Blair borrowed a trick from the Bush play-book in conflating the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan as if they were equally legitimate and the lessons transferable.

Mr Blair's surprisingly muted address offered a mostly realistic appraisal of what Labour has to do to win a third term. Iraq was the conspicuous exception. It may also be the one on which the next election turns.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam