Leading Article: Bold, but Blair must also be brave

Share
Related Topics
THIS WAS probably a historic speech. Since John Smith's death last May, Tony Blair has wooed not just his party but the nation. Yesterday when he declared, 'We are the mainstream voice in politics today', it was only a mild exaggeration.

His speech was a formidable performance, combining skilful changes of tone and mood, appealing to the public and the faithful alike. On his maiden outing, Mr Blair gave a command performance. The highlight was his injunction to his party on the need for reform. Rarely has a leader spoken to a party conference with such frankness. He told them to give credit to their political opponents where credit was due, not to promise full employment overnight when that was patently impossible. 'When we make a promise, we must be sure we can keep it. That is page one, line one of a new contract between government and citizen.'

It took one short passage to announce the death warrant of Clause IV; and he was applauded for it. Nothing sums up his intentions more clearly than his phrase 'New Labour' to describe his party. It is the nearest he will probably get to changing the party's name.

Yet it was not a speech without serious flaws. Apart from the Blair evergreens, notably crime and the relationship between the individual and society, the speech was short on policy specifics. There was too much crude anti-Toryism as the explanation for Britain's problems. Even when he ventured into what was, for him, a new area, a critique of the Establishment, he managed to turn it into a superficial party political point. This is a familiar type of political laziness and it fails to address the important fact that Labour has itself been a bulwark of conservatism on many issues, not least the power of professionals.

Mr Blair needs time to catch breath, to do some more thinking, to add to what is still a rather limited repertoire. But the single most worrying aspect of the Blair pitch is its essentially conservative tone, as in: 'Today's politics is about the search for security in a changing world.' If Mr Blair really believes this then he is a man for today but not necessarily for tomorrow.

There is certainly a problem of social cohesion, of binding society. But the Labour leader's whole emphasis is on security and protection. The danger of this approach is that it ignores the inevitability of change and uncertainty as the country responds to global competition. The need for far-reaching changes in Britain's institutions and culture was not simply a preoccupation of the 1980s. It is now an inescapable feature of life.

In his first conference speech in 1963, Harold Wilson captured the imagination of the nation when he called for modernisation in the context of the white heat of the technological revolution. Mr Blair's appeal yesterday was very different, more introspective and conservative, more about conservation than change. For the moment it reflects the mood of the nation, but it is not a prospectus for the 1990s.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Queen Elizabeth II with members of the Order of Merit  

Either the Queen thinks that only one in 24 Britons are women, or her Order of Merit is appallingly backward

Janet Street-Porter
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...