Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Disquiet in Blair's Backyard

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Disquiet in Blair's Backyard

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Linford, Political Editor, In Bournemouth

Tony Blair began Labour's conference yesterday in defiant mood as he pledged there would be "no turning back" on controversial public service reforms - and insisted he had nothing to apologise for over Iraq.

The Prime Minister faces his most difficult conference since becoming Labour leader nine years ago with the unions and the left demanding a change of direction in order to regain public trust.

Yesterday, the Newcastle East MP and former Cabinet minister Nick Brown became the latest heavyweight figure to join the clamour by demanding a rethink on plans to introduce university top-up fees.

And in a further sign of the mounting discontent in Labour's Northern heartlands, it emerged that constituency activists in Newcastle Central and South Shields had submitted critical motions on Iraq and foundation hospitals.

But Mr Blair made clear in a series of pre-conference interviews yesterday that there would be no retreat on either the domestic or the foreign policy front.

Asked about the opposition to the war he said: "They can attack me as much as they want. I believe we did the right thing. I don't apologise for Iraq. I am proud of the position we took."

On foundation hospitals and top-up fees he insisted: "There will be no withdrawal. It is important we extend the numbers of kids going to university. We can't do that under the current funding system."

And speaking ahead of last night's Channel 4 play The Deal about his relationship with Gordon Brown, Mr Blair again insisted there was no agreement to hand over power to the Chancellor.

Mr Blair's comments reflect his determination to ride out the current crisis of public trust and lead his party to an unprecedented third term in power.

But the intervention of a figure of the seniority and stature of former agriculture minister Mr Brown demonstrates the scale of the disquiet about his leadership among even moderate Labour MPs.

He said yesterday: "There is a feeling of disquiet, a feeling that we're losing our way and losing the trust of the people who ought to be on our side. …

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