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banner Friday, 28 September, 2001, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Blair's low-key victory rally
Nick Assinder

The Labour Party conference was never going to be the huge celebration Tony Blair may have wanted after his second election victory.

The continuing row over his plans to allow the private sector into the public services had already seen to that.


The attacks on New York and Washington have changed the conference season tone
But the international crisis is overshadowing everything on the political scene and, as with the other party conferences, Labour's rally is likely to be a sombre affair.

It is the first Labour conference since Mr Blair won his historic second term in power and, under normal circumstances, he would have wanted to bask in that success.

And there should have been an overwhelming air of celebration and even triumphalism right across the party.

The election of Iain Duncan Smith as Conservative leader and his selection of an overwhelmingly right-wing cabinet would also have been targeted.

But the event has now been cut short and it is likely that the debates will be low key and less controversial than ever.

No one expects ministers to use the occasion to make tub-thumping speeches denouncing the opposition parties and heralding their policies.

It is possible that ministers may even abandon formal speeches in favour of less rigid, question and answer sessions or some other form of debate.

Less controversy, less partying

And while a raft of policy announcements were originally being lined up for the rally, most of those are expected to be postponed.

Even the normally lively fringe events are being cut back and much of the corporate partying is also expected to be curtailed as inappropriate.


Tony Blair will be seeking support from his party
The prime minister's big speech, like Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy's last Thursday, is certain to be dominated by the war on terrorism.

He will want to brief delegates on the current situation and will hope to win backing for his policy of standing shoulder to shoulder with President George Bush.

There will be dissenters of course - led by father of the House Tam Dalyell and former MP Tony Benn - but they are likely to be in the minority and, if recent events are anything to go by, they will be given a respectful hearing.

This will not be an occasion for the sort of bitter feuding which once characterised the Labour conference.

Concern over public services

The prime minister will also have to address some of the political issues facing the government - most notably over the relationship between the private sector and public services.

There is still deep concern over the policy and unions, many grassroots party members and a number of MPs were ready to take on the prime minister over the issue.

There will still be some of that but it is not expected to be as severe as many had previously expected.

Nonetheless Mr Blair will have to address the issue in his speech and is, once again expected to stress that he is not out to privatise the public sector.

Spending plans under threat?

Chancellor Gordon Brown will also have a difficult speech to make. He has already warned the cabinet that likely spending on the war against terrorism will eat into public spending plans.

That will not go down well with many delegates.

Government moves to tighten security in the wake of the attacks in the US may also cause controversy with many Labour members deeply unhappy with the idea of identity cards.

There had also been widespread speculation that anti-capitalist demonstrators would descend on the conference. but it is now unclear whether this will happen.

What is certain, however, is that security in Brighton will be tighter than ever before.

That will present a continuing reminder to delegates of the terror crisis and will cast a long shadow over the entire event.

Links to more Labour stories are at the foot of the page.


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