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Friday, 22 September, 2000, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
McCartney toughs it out
By BBC News Online's Ben Davies
The run-up to this year's Labour conference has been far from ideal for the government, but Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney has his gloves on and is ready to go 12 rounds with the Tories.
Undaunted by what has undoubtedly been an extremely tough few weeks, an equally tough Mr McCartney has come out of the corner fighting.
That strategy, he asserts, has two stages: firstly to sort out the "economic mess" Labour was left by the Tories, and secondly to begin the process of rebuilding the NHS and inject cash into areas such as education and transport.
"It took tough decisions and a really tough two and a bit years, but we've stuck at it because we gave a promise to sort it out," he says.
"But I don't believe for a moment that the British people are going to throw away all that hard work - them working with us to rebuild this country."
Mr McCartney also dismissed recent opinion polls which have put the Conservative Party under William Hague ahead - for the first time - of Labour.
Hague will 'do anything' to get on TV
In what could be taken as a reference to the fuel crisis, he said the choice was straightforwardly "between a prime minister who's got the guts to stand up and do what's right" and William Hague who would "agree with anything, with anybody, any day of the week so long as it gets him on television..."
Mr McCartney is also clear that some of the people involved in both the fuel blockades and some of the countryside protests are simply out to get the government.
"There are people out among the Countryside Alliance and others that never voted Labour at the last election, never vote Labour ever and they've got a legitimate right to protest.
"They turn up at every protest and see their role to try and bring down the Labour government and some of them see their to cause chaos.
Labour is listening
"That does not mean, because of them, that we do not listen to legitimate concerns of the general citizen about issues."
Not listening, though, was one of the accusations levelled at the government during the fuel protests and some on the left of Labour have argued that the government seems to be listening to its traditional voters least.
Not so, said Mr McCartney.
The new deal, investment in health and education, the minimum income guarantee - all of these areas are directly to the benefit of Labour heartlands, he said.
But, he adds, the landslide victory of 1997 was far more than just a massive turn out of the notoriously hard to get out Labour vote - it was a coalition of interests.
"We are not going to abandon that coalition and we are not going to have the Conservatives put us in a box and say the only people we represent are those who they abandoned in the 1980s and 1990s.
Labour a 'one-nation party'
"We are a one-nation party so we represent the whole community and at this conference this will be the springboard for Labour's second term."
"And so the conference is a major springboard for us to say this is what we will do. We'll set a stall out for employment, education, transport, crime, Europe. This conference is about looking forward."
Nothing seems to annoy Mr McCartney more than the suggestion that Labour is in any way tainted by sleaze - a charge which he absolutely rejects.
But the re-emergence of the so-called "cash-for-favours" affair could not have been less timely coming, as it does, hot on the heels of the fuel blockade and just ahead of the conference in Brighton.
Mr McCartney is quick to point out both Labour's record on fighting smoking and its record on fighting sleaze.
He said: " When we go back in the autumn one of the first bills we will have to deal with is the Regulation of Political Parties and why's that bill coming in?
"Because the last Tory government was mired in sleaze taking cash for questions, having foreign donations into their accounts secretly, taking donations off companies and organisations to promote legislation.
Labour the 'sleaze-busters'
"This government's stopping that. We are not involved in sleaze - we are sleaze-busters."
This year's gathering in Brighton will be a conference with a difference - if for no other reason because Mo Mowlam has announced she will stand down from both government and parliament at the next election.
Working in the Cabinet Office under Ms Mowlam, Mr McCartney is clearly sorry that the conference favourite is going - but as with other issues he is optimistic about the future.
"There'll be other people who come up after Mo Mowlam and there'll be other people to take on the fight and Mo would be the first to give them help and support.
"So yes there's a bit of sadness but we support her what she's decided to do. Brave lady. Good luck!"
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