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banner Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Fuel protesters choked by Blair speech
Tony Blair
Tough stance could trigger new blockades
Union leaders and many party members at the conference broadly welcomed the prime minister's speech.

He's on about saving the world and saving everyone else, so what's he going to do with British agriculture and hauliers?

David Handley, Farmers for Action
But furious fuel protesters said Tony Blair's tough stance had raised the prospect of further blockade action "tenfold".

In his speech Mr Blair admitted fuel was expensive and that there was "real hardship" for hauliers, farmers and other motorists.

But he asked if it was right to listen to their protests above those of pensioners and the vulnerable.

'We will fight'

People's Fuel Lobby chairman David Handley accused the prime minister of "not listening" and said he had failed to offer them "a glimmer of hope".

Mr Handley, also chairman of the Farmers for Action group, protested: "He's on about saving the world and saving everyone else.

"So what's he going to do with British agriculture and hauliers, just let us all go down the drain? We will fight.

"He has not listened and his arrogance has stood firm and fast. He could have toned it down and offered us a glimmer of hope but he didn't.

Asked if the Blair speech meant the chance of fuel blockades returning had increased, Mr Handley said: "I would suggest it has increased tenfold.

"We are men of honour and we said we would give 60 days, but I can't guarantee everyone will do the same."

In his speech, Mr Blair set the hardship of motorists and farmers against the plight of schools, hospitals, law and order and above all pensioners.

"What of those who can't protest, whose voice isn't supported by the media, who go neglected unless we speak for them?" he asked.

But Farmers for Action member Brian Parry, a dairy farmer from Raglan, Gwent, responded angrily, saying: "He didn't give any hope to us. This has been a major topic for the last three weeks and he just skirted over it."

Morale raised

Union leaders praised the Prime Minister's speech and said it would boost the morale of party members and activists paving the way for a victory at the next general election.

Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, said: "It was a powerful speech that answered the critics. It is obvious that we have a government that listens and leads. We are fighting back and are in better shape to take on the Tories."

Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, said: "It was a major confidence-building speech, not just for the party but for the country as a whole.

"It will raise morale in those groups that have been concerned, such as pensioners, and it creates the conditions for winning a second term."

John Edmonds, GMB general secretary, said: "Tony Blair has clearly signalled that the days of government's buying power through tax cuts are over.

"It is obvious that he intends to earn power at the next election through investment in public services for all rather than the Tory offer of tax bribes for the affluent few."

Sporting chance

Mr Blair announced that school and community sport will receive an extra 750million over the next three years in a bid to widen grass-roots participation.

British sports stars, including successful Olympic athletes, welcomed the new funding.

Steve Redgrave, the rowing gold medallist, said: "We must encourage youngsters to be keen about sport which has been neglected in schools for too long."

Jason Queally, cycling gold medallist said: "All successful sporting nations have the roots of their success in school sport and I hope there will now be an increase in the choice of sports."

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