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Page last updated at 15:30 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 16:30 UK

Archive: Blair's Britain

Panorama has taken Conservative Party leader David Cameron to meet ordinary voters in Birmingham, just as it did in Southampton in 1994 with the-then new Labour Party leader Tony Blair. Here we take a look back at that film, Blair's Britain.

Tony Blair on Panorama

Tony Blair became the Labour party's youngest post-war leader on 21 July 1994.

Almost immediately he began to be viewed as a creditable alternative to the-then Prime Minister John Major.

In October 1994, Panorama took him to meet the electorate of the south coast heartlands that Mr Blair and the Labour Party would have to convince if they were ever to govern.

The film aired on the eve of Mr Blair's maiden conference speech as Labour leader.

In that speech he called on the party to revise its constitution and drop Clause IV - basically its support of state ownership of the means of production - which showed clearly that modernising the party's appeal was of primary concern.

'Modern Britain'

Panorama gave a clear illustration of just how important this was.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair was elected MP for Sedgefield in 1983

Prior to meeting Mr Blair, several voters featured in the film spoke of their concerns with what they thought Labour stood for: strikes, power cuts and economic mismanagement.

Mr Blair was determined to alter this perception and position Labour as the party of a dynamic, entrepreneurial and modern Britain.

He met a businessman who was concerned that Labour's adopting of the European Union social chapter programme - including the introduction of a minimum wage - might actually damage small businesses.

If the gloomier predictions for the next few years are proved correct and, if elected, David Cameron, may inherit an economy in worse state than Mr Blair.

Yet in 1994 the UK economy was emerging from recession, which, coupled with New Labour's courting of business, helped convince many of their economic competence prior to the 1997 general election.

'Working class' party

Unemployment had peaked around three million two years earlier, though the effects were still being keenly felt when Panorama met Mr Blair.

Tony Blair at 1994 Labour Conference
Mr Blair became Labour leader following the death of John Smith

Panorama spoke to an unemployed middle manager concerned over how Labour would help people like her back into work.

To secure her vote, Mr Blair needed to convince her of how a party she identified with the working class could help her "as a sector of management people that seem to have been left behind".

An avoidance of economic boom and bust - with growth running around 2.5% annually during Mr Blair's years - helped unemployment fall to a 22-year-low in 2007.

However, the spectre of unemployment is once again centre stage and an issue that Mr Cameron must get to grips with if he himself is to convince the electorate.

Under-achieving school

Mr Blair stated in his 1996 conference speech that his three priorities were "education, education, education".

In 1994 in Blair's Britain, he met a young mother whose concerns were just that.

The mother was keeping her 11-year-old daughter away from school rather than sending her to an under-achieving local school.

Studying the school's poor exam results league table was the final factor in her decision.

The Labour Party at the time opposed the introduction of the tables.

The young mother Mr Blair met felt differently, saying that she "found the league tables quite informative".

Mr Blair claimed that judging schools solely using league tables was "simplistic and flawed".

However, throughout his years in Downing Street league tables and exam results statistics grew in notoriety and apparent importance.

Party re-brand

Mr Blair's early years were hampered by accusations that he was not a conviction politician and that his was a message of style over substance.

The rebranding of the party as New Labour was evidence of this for many critics.

However, Mr Blair and his close circle of advisors were adamant that the Labour Party had to re-imagine itself for the 90s if it was ever to re-connect with the electorate and regain power.

In many respects accusations of media manipulation - which came to be popularly known as spin - and the importance of image were never truly shaken off by Mr Blair. Yet he won three general elections.

Mr Cameron's attempts at re-branding the Conservative Party has seen similar levels of criticism aimed at him.

Whether Mr Cameron is able to negotiate such accusations as safely will be a factor in his election success or failure.

Panorama: Blair's Britain was broadcast on 3 October 1994

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