Blair bids final farewell to Labour
27 September 2006
By James Millar
British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday delivered his farewell to Labour as party leader, urging the party to stay true to his principles to win a fourth election.
Mr Blair also sought to defuse claims that his wife Cherie had poured scorn on
Gordon Brown’s speech to the conference, but failed to explicitly endorse the chancellor as his successor.
Mr Blair told delegates at Labour’s Manchester conference that he wanted to heal the wounds of recent weeks of bitter infighting breaking out over who should succeed him and when he should quit No 10.
He said: “In no relationship at the top of any walk of life is it always easy, least of all in politics which matters so much and which is conducted in such a piercing spotlight.
“But I know New Labour would never have happened and three election victories would never have been secured without Gordon Brown. He is a remarkable man, a remarkable servant to this country — and that is the truth.”
However, there was no explicit endorsement of Mr Brown and he even began the speech to the party conference with a dig at Mr Brown.
He told cheering delegates in Manchester, after thanking Mrs Blair for her support over the years: “I mean, I don’t have to worry about her running off with the bloke next door.”
Mrs Blair was plunged into fresh controversy earlier after Downing Street was forced to deny new claims she had dismissed Gordon Brown’s party conference speech as “rubbish”.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “This is yet more complete rubbish about something else that never took place.”
Mrs Blair’s claimed remarks were supposed to have taken place as she passed the Communication Workers’ Union stand in Manchester’s G-Mex exhibition centre during the chancellor’s speech.
London’s Evening Standard said Mrs Blair dismissed the speech as “rubbish” with a wave of her hand and told the union it should be supporting Alan Johnson.
The union also denied the incident had taken place.
But the row follows hard on the heels of Monday’s furore when it was claimed Mrs Blair called Mr Brown a liar when he said it had been a privilege to work with the prime minister.
Mrs Blair, a QC and Judge, publicly denied ever having said any such thing — but the story still dominated conference headlines.
Mrs Blair refused to comment to waiting reporters as she returned to her hotel, after fulfilling an engagement in the city.
During his speech, Mr Blair said there should be no retreat from public service reform, the fight against terror, and tackling issues such as climate change, pensions and the future for nuclear power.
The prime minister told his party and his successor: “It’s up to you. You take my advice. You don’t take it. Your choice.”
He left them with the message: “You’re the future now. Make the most of it.”
Mr Blair, who was given a seven-minute standing ovation, mounted a passionate defence of his time at the party helm.
“The danger for us today is not reversion to the politics of the 1980s, it is retreat to the sidelines, to the comfort zone. It is unconsciously to lose the psychology of a governing party,” he said.
Mr Blair said his successor should press on with public service reform and tough policies on law and order and anti-terror measures.
“I won’t be leading you in the next election, but I’ve sat in the hot seat for 10 years,” he said.
“Here’s my advice.”
He went on: “The scale of the challenges now dwarf what we faced in 1997. They are different, deeper, bigger, hammered out on the anvil of forces, global in nature, sweeping the world.
“In 1997, the challenges we faced were essentially British. Today they are essentially global.”
He stressed the challenges posed by climate change, pensions policy, energy security and the need for further reforms in education and health.
The prime minister’s speech was hailed by union leaders, ministers and MPs.
Derek Simpson, general secretary of trade union Amicus, said it was a “brilliant speech” and an excellent performance.
“The audience loved it and if there was anyone in any doubt about voting Labour, they may have been swayed by the speech. It was a brilliant performance. He has delivered his exit speech.”
Tony Woodley, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, said: “Love him or loathe him that was a leader’s speech. He reminded us of his legacy and that Britain is a fairer society under Labour.”
Environment Secretary David Miliband said: “That was a master class in how to deliver a party conference speech.”
Party member Yasmin Qureshi, 42, said Mr Blair would be a “hard act to follow”. “But that doesn’t mean to say that Gordon couldn’t be a good leader and prime minister,” she said.