Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Once More Labour's Darling

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Once More Labour's Darling

Article excerpt

TONY BLAIR PROVED yesterday why it is he and none of his critics who is leader of the Labour Party and Britain's Prime Minister. This was the speech of a mature and battle-hardened leader who was in no mood to give ground to his critics. In this respect, the speech did the job it set out to do. After the Chancellor's rip-roaring appeal to Labour's heart on Monday, prompting renewed speculation over the leadership, this was Tony Blair's appeal to the Party's head. And delegates loved it. They gave him more than seven minutes of standing ovation and loudly applauded even the more contentious passages on Iraq and university top-up fees. He conceded that he now saw that the sense of euphoric hope people felt in 1997 was "born of inexperience". But the Party could not retreat, he said, into its "comfort zone", continuing as the " wellintentioned pressure group" it had been for much of its history. There was no going back. Further change and reform were the only way ahead. And in his closing section, the Prime Minister confidently staked his party's future on his brand of leadership, based on instinct - because, in perhaps a final putdown to Mr Brown, "it's the only type of leadership worth taking." Nevertheless, while it did the political job at hand, it offered relatively little that broke new ground. There were no new policy announcements. There was no real attempt to sketch out a vision of why and how Labour should govern, other than to ensure "fairness". The message, rather, was that in order to translate its values into reality, the Government now needs to keep plugging doggedly away, not bending to the inevitable difficulties and criticism. This may restore the Party's faith for the time being. But Mr Blair's message on the urgency of reform was much the same as last year's - and not a lot has happened since. If this time next year progress on public service reform is still mired, the Party will have a right to ask how much longer Mr Blair can keep saying, in effect, "one more heave". But for the moment, the Prime Minister is safe from his critics. As his wife Cherie stepped from the front row of Cabinet ministers to greet him aftewards, his microphone clearly picked up her comment: "Your Cabinet loved it, I tell you. …

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