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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 January 2006, 13:00 GMT
PM says reform an election winner
Tony Blair at press conference
Mr Blair defended his education and health reform programme
Tony Blair has defended the government's reform agenda, saying it will provide "the platform" for Labour winning the next general election.

Addressing a Labour party policy forum, he dismissed suggestions that plans to deal with pensions, benefit, education and health were "disjointed measures".

He said the party must keep moving forward, and he warned of the dangers of it retiring to its "comfort zone"

Education and health reform plans have come under fire in recent months.

Some party backbenchers have suggested the plans would lead to inequalities.

It is a programme based on translating Labour's traditional values into the modern idiom
Tony Blair

But the prime minister has steadfastly rejected criticisms, and the suggestion that his party's reform agenda are an electoral irrelevance.

In his speech at the event in Nottingham, he said the reforms form the "heart of the legislative programme currently before us" and the reform programme was not one of "disjointed measures, thought up on the back of an envelope".

"It is a programme based on translating Labour's traditional values into the modern idiom," he said.

"And thematically it is about empowering individuals through collective support to make the most of their lives. The absolute pre condition for electoral success.

"The reform programme therefore is not irrelevant to the fourth term victory - it's the platform for it."

Tony Blair's plans to give state schools in England more say over admissions, staffing and finances have prompted concern from members of his own party - including his deputy, John Prescott.

'Empowerment' programme

Last month Mr Prescott said pupils from poorer backgrounds could lose out under a two-tier, class-ridden system.

But in his speech Mr Blair said the education and health reforms were "pivotal" to the politics of "aspiration".

He said the reforms gave people the opportunity to make choices to improve aspects of their life, rather than the government being overly prescriptive.

"The progressive purpose is and always should be...the enabling society that empowers people to fulfil their potential - their hopes, their expectations.

"The theme running throughout this reform programme is exactly that - about empowerment."

Rock of stability

By way of example, he pointed to NHS reforms which mean patients in England are now able to choose between at least four hospitals for non-emergency operations.

The prime minister said that his party's success had made Labour the "rock of stability" in British politics, forcing the Conservatives to imitate them.

Referring to the Tory party's policy re-think under David Cameron, he said: "This has not been the ten-year process of painful re-evaluation that Gordon and I engaged in with you. This has been a ten-week retreat born of a simple recognition.

"The British people have comprehensively rejected the Conservative party....the leadership, its values, its policies."

The prime minister went on to describe the Liberal Democrats as being "pinned in a vice that they lack the courage to escape from - to be social democrats or the old Liberal party".

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