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Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 18:00 GMT
Programme transcript
What follows is a transcript of Panorama: Tony Blair's Long Goodbye, broadcast on Sunday 12 March 2006 at 2215 GMT on BBC One.

This transcript is based on a recording and because of the possibility of miss-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.


BRADSHAW: Tonight we report on the warfront in Westminster. At stake - the future of our schools and hospitals. For two months Panorama has prowled the corridors of power as Tony Blair and Labour rebels battle it out. He sees reforming public services as his legacy, but he's given himself a deadline promising he'll quit No.10 before the next election. But some Labour MPs are out to stop him. They fear he's abandoning traditional Labour values. Wednesday's showdown on the school's bill could be the crunch. Tonight, from the Westminster trenches, the countdown to the vote that could determine how long Tony Blair stays in Downing Street.

8 WEEKS TO GO

Eight weeks to go before this week's vote on Tony Blair's schools Bill and we're in Parliament about to see him in action. It's Prime Minister's Questions. This is not a film about the usual suspects on the Labour backbenches but let's begin with one.

BRADSHAW: What are you expecting today, anything special?

CLARE SHORT: Well Cameron's making a speech about poverty again.

BRADSHAW: I just bumped into him outside.

CAMERON: I think I should remind the Prime Minister, these sessions about me asking questions on behalf of the public and him...

HOUSE: Yeahhhhhhhh...

CAMERON: And him.. him answering on behalf of the government. If he wants to switch it around he can have a general election.

HOUSE: Yeahhhhhhh...

SHORT: It's a real bear garden when you're in there, it's much worse than it is on the telly.

CAMERON: Clare Short was a Blair cabinet minister until they fell out over Iraq.

BLAIR: [speaking in the House] I was absolutely where we need to be in fighting crime and illegal migration...

SHORT: He's desperate to have big gesture things to drown Iraq as his legacy.

BRADSHAW: You're just embittered they'll say.

SHORT: They do. Now he sort of wants his legacy...he's going to be tough and do unpopular things, a bit reckless, doing things... you know... the Education White Paper, he might not get it through, there's massive opposition in the Labour benches. But of course, a lot of the loyalty that goes to a Prime Minister is because of their patronage power. If he's going, then people... the creep factor doesn't know quite where to put itself. Should it move over to Brown or carry on creeping to Blair. So suddenly authority drains away.

BLAIR: [speaking in the House] ... discussing it obviously with colleagues and we will come forward with proposals when we're ready.

BRADSHAW: Unlike Clare Short, the Vice Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party is no usual suspect. But on this January night, Angela Eagle is helping lead a campaign against Tony Blair's plan's to reform schools in England.

EAGLE: ...between the White Paper and the act...

BRADSHAW: Are you prepared to see Tony Blair resign over this? You're going to push it that far?

EAGLE: I don't think that that kind of speculation is helpful.

BRADSHAW: Angela Eagle fears the Prime Minister's reforms could jeopardise values she came into politics to fight for. What she's campaigning against, Tony Blair's plans for new state schools to be outside local authority control. She fears they could cream off the most able pupils, undermining Labour's commitment to comprehensive education.

EAGLE: These things touch everyone in the party very deeply, in their heart or their soul you could say, which is why we're having such a vigorous debate about it.

BRADSHAW: Do you see yourself as a roadblock to reform?

EAGLE: No, of course not. I mean reform has got to be Labour reform.

BRADSHAW: Tonight she's come to a packed meeting in the Palace of Westminster, to help put some fire into rebel hearts. There are now around 100 Labour MPs on her side, piling the pressure on Tony Blair and his ministers.

EAGLE: [speaking in the House] Well they're getting a right blasting about this, and those of you who are in the Party and I hope that most of you are, if not all, please keep up the pressure.

BRADSHAW: Also in the audience there's one highly unusual suspect, Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's former spin doctor. Former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock broke ranks with Tony Blair for the first time, angry in particular at the PM's plans for the new Trust schools free of local authority control.

LORD KINNOCK Leader, Labour Party 1983-1992 The campaign for the protection of our beloved Labour Government from the Trust School elephant trap which some conniving person has managed to pull them towards when doubtlessly they weren't looking.

BRADSHAW: It's been a tough night for Tony Blair, a revolt, Angela Eagle claims, of the Labour mainstream.

ANGELA EAGLE MP Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party We're not the usual suspects. We cannot be dismissed as if we're the ranting loonies because we are the main stream of party and I can say that actually the party and the country is even more annoyed about some aspects of these reforms than the parliamentary Labour Party.

BRADSHAW: Alistair Campbell was in there...

EAGLE: That's right.

BRADSHAW: He's certainly not a usual suspect.

EAGLE: Exactly.

BRADSHAW: Did you get the idea he was on your side?

EAGLE: I think that he was clapping in all the right places.

BRADSHAW: And Neil Kinnock saying that he was breaking his history of loyalty to the government, breaking a record of loyalty to the government.

EAGLE: Yes.

BRADSHAW: That's quite something.

EAGLE: It's quite clear that we've got to get this right to unite the Party, that defeat isn't an option, and that ought to be concentrating all the minds, including those that are in Downing Street.

BRADSHAW: And those mysterious minds in Downing Street, well we've spoken on and off the record to several key advisers who've now left after helping Mr Blair devise his reforms. They too believe the stakes could not be higher.

JULIAN LE GRAND Prime Minister's Public Service Adviser 2003-2005 If Tony Blair's reforms stalled or if they're rolled back - worse still - I think we're in for a pretty disastrous situation. We're pouring money into the health service, we're pouring money into education system. We are not getting the quality of services that we expect. In that case the pressure will be on to privatise and it will be the end of the welfare state as we know it.

BRADSHAW: So last chance for Labour.

LE GRAND: I think it's the last chance for the welfare state, yes.

BRADSHAW: Really the last chance? Tony Blair's ministers are behaving as if it is. Today, Patricia Hewitt applying charm and pressure, selling Tony Blair's health reforms to NHS workers.

HEWITT: Yes there is a great deal of change going on, and I know very well that people would just love us to stop the changes, but we can't. Everybody welcomes the investment. But alongside the investment have come the reforms. The investment is welcome, the reforms aren't always welcome.

BRADSHAW: What Tony Blair wants is quite straightforward. He believes you can drive up standards by introducing more competition within the NHS and the state education system, giving more people access to the best schools and hospitals.

PATRICIA HEWITT MP Health Secretary Yes, there will be competition where it is appropriate, between hospitals, and there will be situations where competition of a different kind is appropriate in primary care.

BRADSHAW: Competition, markets, words that can make old Labour blood boil, and nobody is boiling over more than usual suspect David Taylor.

Are you worried about the way Tony Blair is taking the NHS?

DAVID TAYLOR MP Labour, North West Leicestershire I'm very concerned about the way the government are taking the NHS, that's true. There seems to be an apologetic attempt to drive the NHS down towards an inappropriate model which is the market system.

BRADSHAW: How much anger is there in the Party?

TAYLOR: Significant anger.

BRADSHAW: More than there has been?

TAYLOR: Yes, I think so.

BRADSHAW: Old Westminster hands smell blood in the water, with Labour rebels growling about Tony Blair's health reforms and determined to vote his school's Bill down, leaving him dependent on the Conservatives for support. So, what would that mean for Tony Blair's long goodbye?

TREVOR KAVANAGH Associate Editor, The Sun If he gets it through with the help of the Conservatives then I think he's lost his authority as Prime Minister and I think he's crippled possibly terminally.

BRADSHAW: So it's crunch time really.

DAVANAGH: It is crunch time, it is serious.

BRADSHAW: Serious not least because Tony Blair doesn't want to be remembered mainly for an unpopular war in Iraq, a war he's reminded of once again this late January morning as he drives to the Commons.

STREET DEMONSTRATOR: 45 minutes Mr Blair! 45 minutes Mr Bliar! Bring the troops home now!

BRADSHAW: If he's to avoid Iraq being his defining legacy insiders say Tony Blair must push through his radical public service reforms. So last October he published his education White Paper, and his plans for markets and choice in public services came one giant step closer.

24th October 2005

BLAIR: Tomorrow's White Paper on Education marks a pivotal moment in the life of this Parliament and this Government. In both the National Health Service and in Education there will, in one sense, be a market.

JULIAN LE GRAND Prime Minister's Public Service Adviser 2003-2005 This is the kind of thing that I've been advocating for a long time. It's what they call in the jargon the quasi market. It's a sort of market. You have independent providers, independent hospitals, independent schools. Some in the public sector, some in the private sector, some not for profit. But they're all competing for custom and competing for contracts.

BRADSHAW: Over the years Tony Blair has met real hostility over the pace of public service reform, most famously when he was door-stepped by Sharon Storer during the 2001 election.

16th May 2001

STORER: My partner has cancer, so would you like to tell me what you're going to do to provide those people with better facilities?

BLAIR: That's exactly what we're trying to do.

STORER: I hope you do because it's absolutely appalling...

BLAIR: I'm very sorry about...

STORER: No, you're not very sorry because if you was, you would do something about it.

BLAIR: Okay.

BRADSHAW: Had he been trying to improve public services? He sure had, first by issuing orders from Whitehall tell public services how to do better. Then by all those famous targets. Steady steps to improvement he says, but insiders say he still felt progress was too slow. So next came the big idea that's causing all the trouble now.

Dr ARNAB BANERJI Prime Minister's Senior Electronics Adviser 2002-2005 Ahead of the last general election he made it very clear that he thought the way forward was to empower the public, was to give them choice, and he.. you know.. he was very clear to his advisers that that's what he wanted to do, he wanted to go down this path. It's not Nanny knows best, it's that the public should have access to information and decide what they want.

24th October 2005 BLAIR: In our schools, as I shall go on to describe, the system will finally be opened up to real parent power.

LE GRAND: Parents will make a choice. At the moment there is choice but it's only the better off who've really got that choice. They can choose to buy a house near a good school, but the poor and the less well off cannot do that. So the idea is to extend choice to everybody.

BRADSHAW: Those are the principles behind the education reforms and 7 weeks before the vote Tony Blair seems to be standing firm.

7 WEEKS TO GO

BLAIR: It's a bit of a high wire act this, at the moment, I accept that because I've got... you know... significant numbers of my own side who are against it, but my job is to go out and say to people this is critical about standards, it's about educating our children.

BRADSHAW: But behind the scenes there's already talk of compromise and this is the man who could deliver it. He's Barry Sheerman, Chair of the Education Select Committee. His committee is about to publish a report suggesting changes to the reforms. The Government's White Paper would stop local authorities starting schools of their own, he wants the band lifted. He's on the phone to the press, angry his report has been leaked as a 'cave in' to the rebels.

BARRY SHEERMAN: Let's get it on take... I mean real take, rather than what was being spun that we were a bunch of rebels and all that nonsense. Cheers.

BRADSHAW: If his committee's majority report is a decent compromise, it could take the heat out of the rebellion. Trouble is, it could also be seen as tearing the heart out of Tony Blair's reforms.

SHEERMAN: My job is to do a tough, independent report based on the evidence.

BRADSHAW: Either Tony Blair waters down his reforms and...

SHEERMAN: I'm sorry...no...

BRADSHAW: There's a choice, either he waters down his reforms and doesn't go down as a great reforming Prime Minister.

SHEERMAN: That's not true, I'm sorry. No, no, no...

BRADSHAW: Or he doesn't water the reforms...

SHEERMAN: No, that's BBC speak.

BRADSHAW: ...and loses the vote.

BARRY SHEERMAN MP Chairman Commons Education Select Committee That is BBC speak I've heard all day yesterday and it's wrong. You don't have to water it down. You can improve it. Far from watering it down, this will improve the efficacy of his White Paper and the Bill, and he will go down in history as the most progressive Prime Minister in the Education sector that we've ever had.

BRADSHAW: But when Barry Sheerman does publish the report next day the changes its calling for are indeed seen as an attempt to blunt Blair's radicalism.

REPORTER: These demands appear to fly in the face of what Tony Blair is trying to achieve, freeing schools from the clutches of the town hall, giving them more power to run their own affairs. Conservatives say the Prime Minister should stick to his guns.

6 WEEKS TO GO

BRADSHAW: Six weeks to go before the Schools Bill vote and on Breakfast TV Tony Blair is sticking to his guns on both schools and on health.

Q: Now you do seem to have your foot on the accelerator at the moment. We spoke just a couple of weeks ago about your plans to deal with antisocial behaviour, there were of course education reforms last week, now we've got these NHS proposals. It does smack of a man who knows he wont be in office for much longer.

BLAIR: (laughs) Well no, it's not that, it's just that... you know... we've made big changes in the NHS already.

BRADSHAW: Tony Blair's new Health White Paper published today sounds familiar - more competition in the NHS. That could, for example, mean NHS surgeries in supermarkets.

BLAIR: I think with a bit of imagination and creativity, people can provide a different type of service.

BRADSHAW: That very evening Angela Eagle is on her way to a party in No.10. But what she's written in the Left Wing magazine Red Pepper could make her a bit of a party pooper - it's a savage attack on her host's faith in competition. She's still worried the new independent Trust schools could cream off the best pupils reintroducing selection by the back door.

ANGELA EAGLE MP Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party Your piece in Red Pepper has got some pretty strong language in it, nothing but ideological dogma, it's provocative stuff for somebody who is trying compromise.

EAGLE: Not if you read it. I think that...

BRADSHAW: Well I have just read it and you're laying down the line here, aren't you. Are you going to be saying some of this to Tony Blair?

EAGLE: Well I'm sure he'll...he's an avid reader of Red Pepper so he'll be able to know what I've said. I've been perfectly up front with my views to him and other members of the Cabinet that talk to me about it.

BRADSHAW: So you're going to tell him that the stakes could hardly be higher?

EAGLE: If the conversation goes that way and he would just talk about it in that context I will certainly help him but┐

BRADSHAW: Nothing but ideological dogma, are you going to say this to him?

EAGLE: What I'm going to do is help to broker what I hope will be a compromise.

BRADSHAW: I'll let you get on with it.

EAGLE: Thanks very much.

BRADSHAW: Strengthening the resolve of Labour rebels, support from the party's traditional backers in the unions. Unison's Dave Prentis represents more than a million British workers.

DAVE PRENTIS: We told Tony Blair not long ago that he's never more than 10 yards away from a Unison member.

BRADSHAW: A sobering thought if they really don't like what he's up to. Today Dave Prentis is preparing a speech for a meeting he's called on public sector reform. He tells us what he wont put in it.

DAVE PRENTIS General Secretary, UNISON I wont actually use this term but the Government is panicking a bit. It's now got a resurgent Tory opposition. Lots of money have gone in but they're panicking about whether or not the reform gender is producing results.

BLAIR: He rejects the Blairite idea his members might work more effectively working for new independent providers, including private companies.

PRENTIS: If you're a nurse in a hospital you're motivated by helping to make that patient better, and I think what we need to do is actually look at what motivates the public service worker to deliver a good service rather than give it to a private company whose primary concern is the shareholder.

BRADSHAW: You must have talked to Tony Blair yourself frequently. How's he changed over these 9 years?

PRENTIS: I don't necessarily believe that he has changed. The good thing about Tony, when you talk to him, is his conviction. He's the epitome of the best of a conviction politician. But then when you come away from it and you're starting with the reality of what happens at local levels, and you see the two don't always match up, and you suddenly start worrying that conviction itself isn't going to bring about the improvements that we're all looking for.

PRENTIS: Yes, we want to cooperate, but don't expect us just to be passive supporters of an agenda which we are not signed up to. Thank you. [Applause]

BRADSHAW: There are some other interesting folk here who haven't signed up either. Fiona Miller's Alistair Campbell's partner and Cherie Blair's former media adviser. She's also a leading campaigner against Tony Blair's School's Bill.

FIONA MILLER Former Aide to Cherie Blair I think the idea of collaboration, people working together, not in competition, and certainly not asking parents to be in competition with each other, is what most parents would want to get.

BRADSHAW: But why does Tony Blair not get that message then?

MILLER: Well I think he does want excellence for all but I think he feels that the way to get it is down this other route of competition and independence, but I don't think the evidence backs that up and there's plenty of evidence now on the table for him to look at to see that.

BRADSHAW: Where does that idea come from then, where do you think it all comes from, this competition...

MILLER: Well I seem to remember the Tory Party talking about it a lot in the 1980s. It seems to me a sort of old Right idea, not a new radical progressive idea.

BRADSHAW: That's not David Blunkett's view. He'd still like to see his old boss go further with his reforms.

Do you think he's having to water down his policies too much because of...

DAVID BLUNKETT Cabinet Minister 1997-2004, 2005 I think ever politician starts off with an aspiration and has to accommodate to what is possible. There are things I would do from 97 to 2001 in Education that I couldn't do. I had to build a block on which someone else would build another block because you can only move it a bit at a time. The idea there is a year zero where what you do is you either pass the legislation, put the resources in, announce the policy and suddenly it happens - God I wish that were true!

BRADSHAW: Why couldn't you do what you wanted on Education, what was the road block?

BLUNKETT: Because you're always moving the boundaries. You're persuading people that the reform you want to take on is good for the service, it's good for them, and is feasible and possible. Whenever we took our foot off the accelerator things started to go backwards, it's just a fact.

5 WEEKS TO GO

BRADSHAW: Only five weeks before the vital vote and the horse trading between the potential rebels and Tony Blair is getting more intense. Over the weekend Angela Eagle has had a surprise.

EAGLE: I was at home, actually in the garden picking up the winter leaves when the phone rang.

BRADSHAW: It was the Government on the line. She grabbed some paper, some local store's January special offers. The Government had an offer of its own, this historic document will not be appearing in the national archives.

EAGLE: The first bit of paper that came to...

BRADSHAW: So that's the magic compromise you hope.

EAGLE: It's all written... scrawled out in here and we just need to check that what's in here is what's ended up in the final thing and then...

BRADSHAW: It's a crucial moment. The scale of the rebellion forcing major concessions from the government. There had been new safeguards against state schools creaming off the brightest pupils, and the ban on local councils starting new schools for local communities would be lifted.

EAGLE: Basically strengthening on admissions and a more clearly defined local authority strategic role and very helpfully an agreement that new community schools can be built if that's what local authorities and parents want, so yeah, pretty good.

BRADSHAW: But you want this more formally, obviously.

EAGLE: Clearly, clearly we have to have a look and see how it comes out.

BRADSHAW: Five to six, what happens now?

EAGLE: I'm off to the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting.

BRADSHAW: Okay, you're going to have to run, aren't you.

EAGLE: I am. Thanks very much.

BRADSHAW: Thanks.

EAGLE: Okay. See you later.

BRADSHAW: Later that evening Education Committee Chair Barry Sheerman will be the first to read the Government's formal compromised proposals. He's waiting for a fax from Education Secretary Ruth Kelly.

Yes, this one is actually signed by Ruth Kelly. It's very good. It's 90% of what we asked for. If fair admissions was what they wanted, then it should deliver.

BRADSHAW: The proposed changes? The government has strengthened the code on admissions, stopping back door selection of pupils by interview, and crucially local authorities will now be allowed to open new schools themselves, though the Education Secretary will have a veto.

Verdict?

BARRY SHEERMAN MP Chairman Commons Education Select Committee I think, reading this, most reasonable people will be pretty persuaded that the government has listened to what's been out there.

BRADSHAW: How much input will Tony Blair's office have into that letter do you think?

SHEERMAN: On the record or off?

BRADSHAW: On the record.

SHEERMAN: Well it's showing myself to be ignorant, but all these things with a Prime Minister who really fundamentally is interested in Education quite a lot. He cares so much about education. I think over the weekend, what I had heard, he was going to Chequers to thoughtfully consider the kinds of proposals that had been put together and that's what he did, and here's Monday and we've got the proposals.

BRADSHAW: Okay, I'll let you get on. Thanks a lot.

Down the corridor we're waiting for Angela Eagle. She's now had chance to discuss the government's proposed changes with her fellow sceptics. Still confident the changes can prevent a rebellion?

EAGLE: Right, well we had an interesting meeting and there's still a few points that people are worried about and some clarification, but there was a lot of pleasure I think at the direction of travel.

BRADSHAW: So what happens now?

EAGLE: Well we'll wait for the Bill.

BRADSHAW: So we've got to wait for the Bill really to see if there is a deal?

EAGLE: That's right. I mean what matters isn't in what's in the letters really. It's what comes out in the draft bill, in the legislation that we have to vote on. So we'll know that in a week or two.

BRADSHAW: At this point our story took a remarkable twist. Labour MP Frank Field is one of Parliament's top experts on welfare reform. He was at a private debate on pensions when he let slip a chance remark. Tony Blair, he said, might not quit by the next election after all. Next day we went round to see what he meant.

Just a quick word after yesterday. You were saying yesterday you thought Tony Blair might not go. What was all that about?

FRANK FIELD: Well the polls show that the most popular option amongst voters now that he should actually at the end of four years seek a new mandate.

BRADSHAW: But how would he present it to the world? What would he actually do or say?

FIELD: Well there would be a popular uprising of demand, wouldn't there?

BRADSHAW: Arranged you mean?

FRANK FIELD Member of Parliament Labour, Birkenhead (laughs) Well of which he'd be responding to. And certainly if the polls continued to report that that's the most favoured option amongst voters, it would be silly for them to exclude it.

BRADSHAW: Gordon Brown would go crazy, wouldn't he?

FIELD: Yes. He might do. (laugh)

BRADSHAW: What.. leave the party?

FIELD: The great thing that Blair does is win elections and if it looked as though there's going to be an election again, any criticism would be pretty muted. He wasn't going to and I think he'd probably want to go.

BRADSHAW: Are you being really serious?

FIELD: Yes, I think it is a possibility.

BRADSHAW: We're off to watch PMQs - Prime Minister's Questions - Tell me what you're doing first.

FIELD: Well after Prime Minister's Questions I'm going to go and see the Prime Minister on the CSA, we'll presumably get some idea of what the government is going to do.

BRADSHAW: You're going to see Tony Blair talk about the Child Support Agency.

FIELD: Yes.

BRADSHAW: What, this morning?

FIELD: This morning, prior to the announcement tomorrow.

BRADSHAW: Are you going to take the opportunity to ask him whether he's going to stay on or not?

FIELD: Ah┐ Depending on how it goes, I might. (laughs)

BRADSHAW: Before seeing Frank Field the unsuspecting PMM has another rendezvous. It's Prime Minister's Questions. We're watching with Blair loyalist Howard Stoate. Tony Blair started off cautiously against David Cameron, but today the new Tory Leader is about to make a slip. This is what really turns MPs on.

CAMERON: [Speaking in the House] One minute we have big concessions to win over backbenchers, the next minute we've got no changes at all. Instead of flip flopping, why can't he get out and start...

HOWARD STOATE: Flip-flopping! He left himself wide open. This'll be a treat.

BLAIR: Seeing as he's raised the issue of flip-flopping...

STOATE: Exactly. A classic own goal. Cameron's got a lot of growing up to do.

BLAIR: I have with me a leaflet that has just been put out in the Dunfermline West by-election and he says this: "I'm a liberal Conservative."

HOUSE: [laughter]

BLAIR: Is this the same man that two weeks ago told the Daily Telegraph: "I am and always have been a Conservative to the core of my being?" Then one week ago he's the heir to New Labour, and today he's a Liberal Conservative. No wonder he's against identity cards. [Laughter]

BRADSHAW: Suddenly Labour's beleaguered leader seems on a roll, almost like a leader with the appetite to push through not just the School's Bill but even more reforms. Could it really be the long goodbye could be longer than anyone thought?

Dr HOWARD STOATE MP Labour, Dartford A difficult issue. I think he is showing exceptional leadership at the moment and I think he is desperately trying to complete the reforms he started years ago, I think he is up against certain resistant from within the party and outside the party. But I get the feeling he wants to complete these reforms.

BRADSHAW: Desperately... is he desperately trying to?

STOATE: I think he is desperately trying to because I think he wants to completely...

BRADSHAW: Why desperately...sorry to...

STOATE: Well because I think anybody would recognise that there's only a limited life span for any Prime Minister and I think he wants to leave a legacy that he has, as far as possible, completed the programme he started.

BRADSHAW: I've just been talking to one of your colleagues who was wondering whether he really will leave.

STOATE: That's a big question. I mean it's one of the genuinely best kept secrets around.

BRADSHAW: But the guy I've just been talking to suggested that he might not leave at the end of this Parliament at all, he might fight another election.

STOATE: It's perfectly possible.

BRADSHAW: You think so?

STOATE: Yes, it's perfectly possible.

BRADSHAW: You begin to make me wonder whether he really could stay on. I thought you'd take that as a joke in a sense.

STOATE: No, I don't think it's a joke. It think it actually could happen.

BRADSHAW: Fight another election?

STOATE: It could happen. I mean I really have no inside knowledge of that whatsoever but... you know...the talk in the tea room varies from he's going next month, next year, the year after, some time before the next election or not at all, and it really depends on who you believe.

BRADSHAW: Meantime Frank Field is back from his private discussion about the child support agency.

Remind me of who you've been to see.

FRANK FIELD: (laugh) The Prime Minister. BRADSHAW: How did it go?

BLAIR: It went well, we talked about CSA. I said that there is this television programme being made and I was put up to ask him whether he might stay after 4 years.

BRADSHAW: What exactly did you ask him?

FIELD: I said that I thought that one possibility was that the.. he would complete the 4 years, would complete implementing the manifesto pledges and that he might seek a new mandate.

BRADSHAW: Go to the polls again and have another term?

FIELD: And he roared with laughter, so you can interpret that as you wish.

4 WEEKS TO GO

BRADSHAW: Four weeks to go and inside No.10 Tony Blair is rolling on regardless. The people he's talking to about providing new NHS services are those private companies that make the rebels so annoyed.

BLAIR: The independent sector's got a vital role to play in delivering NHS services in what is about delivering a better quality NHS service.

BRADSHAW: He's also played host to businessmen who he hopes can help develop new schools. Not a tough sell here, but it is to many Labour MPs.

BLAIR: I know that change is always difficult as I've found in many different areas...

BRADSHAW: Difficult though his reforms may be for the rebels, some Labour MPs think Tony Blair, far from betraying Labour values, hasn't changed things enough. In 97 GP Howard Stoate hitched his star to the Blair wagon and was elected MP for Dartford in Kent.

Dr HOWARD STOATE MP Labour, Dartford Campaign team, nice picture of Tony looking extremely young and very enthusiastic, a real man with a vision.

BRADSHAW: But Blair himself admits to wishing he'd gone further and this Blairite agrees.

STOATE: To change a culture of a million workers, and change the way they think, and change the way they operate and change the way they relate to patients is a hell of a task, and I think Blair's done it to a large extent but I would like him to go further and faster, I want more change, I want more improvement.

BRADSHAW: But that's not going to be easy. This loyal MP is keen to sell the Blair reforms to other local doctors, but then come the doubts.

STOATE: [to hospital staff] So you think it might be quite attractive initially to have a surgery in Sainsbury's but you think there will be significant downsides to it in terms of continuity.

DOCTOR: I think so.

STOAT: Okay, well that's interesting.

BRADSHAW: The truth is, even Blair's supporters can have reservations about his reforms.

So if you're in favour of more reform, you're in favour, are you, of getting companies and private companies to run GP services like this?

STOATE: I'm not sure that's the way to go, and I think you heard again from our GP professionals a minute ago...

BRADSHAW: Oh so you're not in favour of that reform?

No, I don't want that to go too far because I don't think that is the way to go.

BRADSHAW: But my point is, is this kind of attitude.. here you are, gung-ho, ready to go for more reforms and yet you're saying when it comes down to this GP practice, I don't want the private companies moving in.

STOATE: Well I've listened to the GPs this morning and they are saying that they can deliver the goods, they can deliver the new services, they're already doing so, so around here there isn't the need or the necessity to have a private sector alternative. Maybe in other parts of the country the situation is different.

3 WEEKS TO GO

BRADSHAW: Three weeks to go and there's more action on the school's bill battlefield. Angela Eagles and her Merseyside constituency being grilled by some young film makers.

EAGLE: I'm Angela Eagle, I'm the Labour MP for Wallasey. Are you going to let me know what you've done when you've done it.

GIRLS: Yeah, we will.

EAGLE: Oh it'll be fantastic. Great. Good luck girls. Alright then, bye.

BRADSHAW: She wants still more changes to the Bill and the increasingly negotiations with the government are going on even as we film them.

ANGELA EAGLE MP Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party Right, now we've got this thing on Trust schools just come in, this document is a kind of top secret document which hopefully will be coming out with the Bill but at the moment it's obviously not for divulging to anyone.

BRADSHAW: Still it's clear the government has retained the right in some circumstances to stop local authorities starting their own schools, and how the government might use that power could be a deal breaker.

EAGLE: I am having an increasing feeling that the rebellion will continue. I'm not sure whether this will be enough. I haven't read all of it yet but I'm beginning to worry that we may not be able to do this and I think the next few...the next week or two is going to be critical to that.

BRADSHAW: If that doesn't change and Tony Blair can only get the School's Bill through with Conservative votes, it could be the last big reform he has chance to make.

2 WEEKS TO GO

With a fortnight to go some Labour MPs are convinced all the changes mean Tony Blair is blowing his chance for radical reform.

What's your feeling about how the Education Bill is going?

FRANK FIELD MP Labour, Birkenhead I think it wont be nearly radical enough. It leaves poorest pupils where they've always been, at the bottom of the heap. It leave local education authorities with the ability to disguise failing schools because they can forcibly fill them up by the use of the law. It does not in any way match up to what the country requires from an Education System and a workforce more dependent on world trade than any other trading nation in the entire world, and we're having a fight over whether local authorities continue with the role which they have had since 1870, and this Bill is a minor measure which I cannot understand why there is such a fuss about it all.

BRADSHAW: Thank you very much.

But fuss there is. The last day in February and the School's Bill is finally published. Angela Eagle's Secretary delivers her copy. She's looking for the changes Tony Blair has already agreed to in principle. For example, the ban on school's interviewing parents or pupils. She hopes that will stop schools cherry-picking the pupils they want.

EAGLE: No admission arrangements for maintained schools may require or authorise any interview with an applicant for admission to the school or his parents.

BRADSHAW: So that's what you wanted, no interviews with parents.

EAGLE: Well that's the clause that bans interviews. There were debates about other methods of selection but that's the clause, on the face of the Bill, that bans interviewing.

BRADSHAW: And that wouldn't be there if you hadn't put the screws on.

EAGLE: No, I mean basically that is one of the things that we had a clarification on. There's quite a strong clutch of protections on admissions. I think we've done a pretty good job there.

BRADSHAW: But one thing is still bothering her. it's her worry that under some conditions ministers can stop local councils trying to start their own new schools.

EAGLE: We just need the Secretary of State to say a few words to us about the circumstances in which she would feel likely to ban a community school from a competition. But I'm happy with the progress and the things that the Government said that they would change on a very quick dash through the Bill looked like, they are in there, so that's good.

BRADSHAW: So her vote?

EAGLE: I will make my decision as the time approaches obviously.

BRADSHAW: But not yet?

EAGLE: No, not yet, no.

BRADSHAW: Still keeping us in suspense.

EAGLE: If you see it that way.

BRADSHAW: (laughs)

BRADSHAW: Looks like it.

BRADSHAW: Angela Eagle is off to hear Education Secretary Ruth Kelly brief Labour MPs on the Bill. She's hoping for those crucial last minute reassurances. So are the other potential rebels behind the Bill? David Taylor has always taken a harder line than Angela Eagle.

Hi. The Bill?

DAVID TAYLOR MP Labour, North West Leicestershire If this is the final shape and if here really is no further movement, clarification, the new power for local authorities, admissions currently being made more... to be put into a legal framework, I feel that isn't largely for me. I can't see me supporting second reading of the bill on the 15th March.

BRADSHAW: And you're saying it could lead to Tony Blair's downfall, let's be blunt about it.

TAYLOR: I am saying that it could accelerate the transition which we already know is going to happen some time during this Parliament and ah..

BRADSHAW: If he gets it through his Conservative votes.

TAYLOR: If it only reached the statue book because of Conservative supporters in the lobby, and had they not been there, it would not have hit the statutory book because clearly that would be a political crisis which would accelerate the transition at the top of the party.

BRADSHAW: 6 o'clock and for Tony Blair it's a crucial moment. Has Ruth Kelly managed to reassure any of the rebels ?

Angela, you've just been to the meeting with Ruth Kelly. What happened?

ANGELA EAGLE MP Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party Well there are a lot of questions and detail with people pawing over the Bill and on a wide range of subjects that Ruth was answering. There was a feeling of grumpiness about the meeting that I hadn't anticipated actually. It was quite interesting.

BRADSHAW: A feeling of what?

EAGLE: Just...people were...um...

BRADSHAW: Grumpiness?

EAGLE: Grumpy, grumpy, yeah, so I don't...People are just digesting it and there's... I don't know, there seemed to be a sense of irritation in the air that I hadn't picked up until now.

Visit the Panorama website to see advisers to Tony Blair tell the story of his public service reforms

BRADSHAW: After the meeting with Ruth Kelly 40 or so of the main rebels gather for a meeting of their own. Some have given up their opposition, but the hardcore who remain include some MPs Tony Blair can normally rely on.

John, how did the meeting go?

... including John Cruddas who used to be a Downing Street adviser himself.

JOHN CRUDDAS MP Labour, Dagenham Oh big stakes, obviously with.. you know.. quite a sizable proportion of the ?? Labour Party were pretty uncomfortable with it, and trying to work through and navigate their own sort of part through it and then obviously the assumption is that the Conservatives still support it, so we'll have to see.

BRADSHAW: What do you think of the Bill?

CRUDDAS: I've got a lot of difficulties with it, but... you know...there's still a couple of weeks to go. I mean in terms of we've got a massively expanding population so we need to build new schools, and we need to build them in a...and we also have the local authority over the last ten years and quite a radical comprehensive agenda at work, and I want to build new schools within that system rather than see it fractured and undermined.

BRADSHAW: But you've worked with Tony Blair, are you surprised to find yourself in this position/

CRUDDAS: Well not really because it demonstrates he's got a lot of radicalism still in him, and he's always tested and challenged the Labour Party and we'll see what the shakedown is.

BRADSHAW: Is this a threat to Tony Blair's legacy as a public service reformer?

LOUISE ELLMAN MP Labour, Liverpool Riverside I think that if Tony Blair needed Tory votes to get this legislation through, it would be a threat to him and he might see it as his legacy, but it wouldn't be a Labour legacy and I think that's his problem.

BRADSHAW: But that's not the way those behind Tony Blair's reforms see it.

What's at stake if Tony Blair's reforms don't go through do you think?

Dr ARNAB BANERJI Prime Minister's Senior Economics Adviser 2002-2005 We will have missed an historic opportunity to make public service more deficient. There is now a consensus across the political spectrum, the public service needs to be more accountable and more efficient. From the point of view of the Labour Party I would say that if we miss this historic opportunity then others will embark on reform, and it may not be at all as congenial as the reforms that Tony Blair is essaying here.

BRADSHAW: One week to go to the big vote on the Schools Bill and we've heard Angela might be changing her mind.

Hello, how are you doing? Good. We've heard rumours of some kind of a deal tonight.

EAGLE: If the signals are correct, then I will vote yes at second reading and see how we go in the process because a lot can change in a parliamentary process.

BRADSHAW: How many other MPs, potential rebel MPs do you think...

EAGLE: No, it's impossible to say. I mean there aren't big blocks moving around in that way, I think...

BRADSHAW: There aren't?

EAGLE: No, I think it's fair to say that there's still a serious problem for the government in numbers terms.

BRADSHAW: What's at stake for the Labour Party, do you think, as he tries to push through these reforms?

EAGLE: Well what's at stake is being able to take forward pubic sector reform but which takes account of fairness and equity and can respond to the needs of the 21st century. That's, in my view, not all about thinking that the private sector can somehow do it better than the public sector can.

BRADSHAW: And what's at stake for Tony Blair, because you have said to me before that there is a lot at stake.

EAGLE: Well he has made it clear that he sees this Bill as an extremely important part of the programme that he wishes to take forward and he's set that hurdle for himself and we'll have to see what happens after the vote on second reading.

BRADSHAW: So will Tony Blair's high wire act end in disaster, with a significant but uncertain number of rebels still holding out, he may yet have to rely on Conservative votes to help pass his Schools Bill on Wednesday. If that does happen, Mr Blare just might find his long good bye shorter than he'd planned.



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