PM’s speech: strong but conciliatory

Prime Minister Tony Blair faced up to “awkward squad” unionism at a dinner at the TUC conference in Brighton last night, telling militants it was fantastical to believe his Government was for turning to the left.

His counsel to the TUC’s 59-member general council and Cabinet ministers at the seafront Grand Hotel in Brighton came after Chancellor of the Exchequer told 800 delegates the Treasury would not give in to excessive pay demands.

Gordon Brown said: “I tell honestly there can be no return to inflationary pay rises, no return to loss-making subsidies that prevent the best long term decisions for Britain, no resort to legislation from Europe or elsewhere which would risk jobs, no retreat from a pro-enterprise, pro-industry agenda and no retreat from demanding efficiency and value for money as well as equity as we renew and reform each of our public services.”

New Labour was steadfast in its commitment to Third Way politics and winning a historic third term, Mr Blair said.

To think otherwise was unionism’s “abiding delusion.”

A Downing Street press release expected him to say: “The idea of a Left-wing Labour Government as the alternative to a moderate and progressive one is the abiding delusion of 100 years of our party. We are not going to fall for it again.

“Despite their criticisms and disappointments, they know that there is much to be proud of in the six years of government and that they have to unite and defeat those on the far left who have learned nothing and those on the far right who have forgotten nothing.

“We must continue with our way – moving forward, step by step, to make Britain a better and more tolerant country. That is the only serious way to remain true to our values of social justice and be realistic about how we achieve them in the modern world.”
The radical reform of public services, including greater private sector involvement, was a quintessential policy of his Government, he said.

The PM said: “Believe me, the alternative to the ‘invest and reform’ agenda is not the one offered on the far left of our party. It is the one on offer from the Tories who will cut the services back and have shown themselves to be even more extreme than the party we put out in 1997.”

The PM said he had no intention of abandoning public sector reforms such as foundation hospitals.

Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Amicus, criticised the thrust of PM’s speech: “Dismissing the legitimate concerns of working people as an irrelevant Left-wing agenda is a slap in the face for millions of people.

“These words will not win Labour the next election. Action on tackling inequalities will.”

But Mr Simpson said the PM’s remarks on the whole were “quite conciliatory.”

He suggested the PM’s stance was far less confrontational than the hard-line messages issued in the press release.

No 10 said Mr Blair’s speech did not mirror exactly the words in the press release but insisted the sentiment had remained the same.

Mr Simpson said: “I also understand that there are a number of remarks that are contained in the press release that I and others are clear Mr. Blair never said.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said it was “extraordinary that Mr Blair did not deliver the speech handed out to the media.

“It is quite clear they are spinning certain messages. Those who thought the end of spin was nigh have been given a nasty shock. None of the language was used.”