Tony Blair presented his credentials as a leader in Europe and the rest of the world yesterday during a keynote speech heavily laden with patriotism and references to Britain's past greatness.
He contrasted his firm leadership of the Labour Party with John Major's inability to influence events in Europe. Declaring himself the enemy of isolationism, Mr Blair committed Labour to leading the European Union from within and to expanding it eastwards in a spirit of co-operation - "not as some giant and centralised European superstate run from the centre".
Being inside and leading the EU was the only way forward for Britain, he said. However, that did not mean selling out Britain's interests. "I am a British patriot and I am proud to be a British patriot. I love my country. I will always put the interests of my country first. The Britain in my vision is not Britain turning its back on the world, narrow, shy, uncertain. It is a Britain confident of its place in the world, sure of itself, able to negotiate with the world and provide leadership in the world."
He added: "Century upon century it has been the destiny of Britain to lead other nations. That should not be a destiny that is part of our history. It should be part of our future."
On Europe, he said a Labour government would would resist "European elites" progressing too quickly. And he said he would enter the international government conference in Amsterdam in June with five key priorities for the development of the EU.
t To remove the remaining trade barriers of the single market.
t To promote enlargement to the East and to ensure integration of Cyprus and former Eastern bloc countries.
t To reform the common agricultural policy.
t To tackle unemployment and promote flexible labour markets in Europe.
t To promote a more co-ordinated European foreign policy.
Mr Blair's audience at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester was supposed to contain diplomats and ambassadors from more than 70 countries, but it was depleted by the disruption caused by yesterday's IRA bomb threats. Those who attended heard the Labour leader pledge to beef up Britain's defences, reform the United Nations secretariat, lead within Nato, increase overseas aid and encourage trade around the world.
"The British people want to count for something in the world. They would be deeply frustrated if they thought the decline in the UK's international stature would inevitably mean a smaller part on the world stage. A reduced life of this kind has been the lot of many peoples living in countries that were once great. But it should not be ours. What is really at stake for Britain is the outlook for future generations," he said.
A number of foreign journalists felt that the speech smacked of imperialism and did not reflect the view of Britain seen from abroad. Most foreign diplomats were herded into a private function after the event and sent word via Labour press officers that they were not in a position to express an opinion on Mr Blair's view of Britain as world leader. However, Mooen Naim, acting High Commissioner at the Pakistani embassy, said his vision was encouraging.
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