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Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
WI rejection: A watershed for Labour?

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has been accused of relying too heavily on spin doctors after he received a frosty response to his speech at the Women's Institute.

The moment Mr Blair started to preach politics to the non-party-political organisation he was greeted with heckling and slow hand-clapping.

Splashed all over the press as a major "PR catastrophe", critics are accusing New Labour of failing to get their message across, trying to please too many people and ultimately relying too heavily on their spin machine.

Do you think the WI's response is significant? Is Labour losing touch with its supporters, or is the Prime Minister just too dependent on his PR department? HAVE YOUR SAY

Tony did go over the 20 minute speech he was allocated to give. Perhaps he thought it was okay to ramble on with the TV cameras there

M. Price, UK
The WI are a powerful lot! My wife is a member and secretary to a local village branch. She was at Wembley and did not know what all the fuss was about. Tony did go over the 20 minute speech he was allocated to give. Perhaps he thought it was okay to ramble on with the TV cameras there.
M. Price, UK

The WI are deeply conservative and Tony Blair is not. He was silly to even try speaking at their conference.
Anne, UK

Blair's only true philosophy is his ambition to get re-elected, and to do whatever it takes to achieve that. For that reason, he is dangerous because his actions are motivated by expediency rather than moral conviction. It's bad enough that he is unwilling to tackle important domestic issues.
Rich Vose, USA

Plenty of people jump on bandwagons and flatter a new boss in the hope of patronage, but we should not forget that Labour was never popular. They just happened to be standing when people were too weary of the sleaze stories to bother to vote, especially for the Tories.
David de Vere Webb, UK



I don't know why Mr Blair wanted to address the WI anyway - maybe he was hoping for a complimentary calendar!

Henbane, UK
The WI is an old-fashioned old-Tory bunch of die-hards who are slowly realising that they have been harbouring Victorian age values in an ever more compromising and cosmopolitan Britain. I hold no stock in their opinion or political views. I'm glad Tony Blair upset of few of them, they're mostly sanctimonious old battle-axes who'd love to see Thatcher back in power.
Matt Garvey, UK

Any political party that undervalues women in the democratic free world will eventually go the way of the dinosaur. Women will no longer put up with it, and will vote against anybody en masse that doesn't put equality and women's issues up at the top of political concerns.
Elizabeth Shipley, USA

I don't know why Mr Blair wanted to address the WI anyway - maybe he was hoping for a complimentary calendar! Everyone knows where they stand politically. I agree Labour needs to spend more time governing and less time spinning.
Henbane, UK

The turning point has arrived. Tony's motley crew tell 'untruths' -otherwise known as spin - on a daily basis - without flinching - whether it is in parliament - or via selected media This government stinks something rotten, and it's about time we kicked them out. Spin Spin ..I am sick of it ......
Gerald Williams, Wales

At last! An audience unafraid to show their response to fatuous spin delivered by that sycophantically grinning face. Tony Blair and 'new' labour need to learn that government actually involves DOING, and this means a bit more than delivering a lot of meaningless glossy hype. My only surprise - what with his meanness with students, pensioners, married people, mortgage payers, moderate earners and the countryside, - is that it took so long for people to vociferously and publicly object.
Helen, UK

Can I Say as someone else has pointed out the stance taken by the stance of the WI was like that of Football Hooligans, THEY SHOULD BE ASHAMED, and to hear one of these women on the Tv saying "we wanted to express our opinion", well you expressed yourselves as RUDE APRT FROM ANYTHING ELSE!!!!!
Adam, UK

The WI can hardly be considered a hot-bed of socialism, so I would have been disappointed had a Labour leader NOT upset them. It's about time the Labour party stood up for its principles and upset a few more of the blue-rinse conservatives who have had too much say for too long. Stand up for the disadvantaged and point out to the well-off that only by the accidents of birth have most of them done so well.
Trevor, UK

I like that one, Phony Tony, its got a nice ring to it.
Peter Andrew, Canada

Clearly the deep rooted Conservative manifestations of the WI, carried out a very well orchestrated demo. But it will not fool the rank and file of the Labour party. If the WI wants a return the live now, pay later days of Thatcherism and all the misery that ensued, the they should be left out in the cold, to carry on what they are really good at, knitting!!!
Derek, ex-pat, Brazil

We don't have to want the Tories back in power to want to hold the Labour Government to account - that is vital to democracy. And this our Parliament and our Press have been failing in the face of Blair's incredible PR machine. It is great that other voluntary associations in society are able to express their disapproval and get noticed. Maybe Blair will cut the rhetoric and start getting some things done.
Laura, UK

The hatred demonstrated by many of your contributors for Labour's efforts to improve the position of certain disadvantaged groups says far more about their mean-spirited self-referential attitudes than it does about Labour's record. We should be wary of those who defend the status quo - they may not necessarily be wrong but there is a very good chance that they have been beneficiaries of the "system" they defend. Witness the recent media "debate" about unfairness in Oxford admissions. The vast majority of columnists were Oxbridge graduates.
Lance, UK

This spells the beginning of the end for Labour. The people have had enough of Labour's floundering. All along, the entire Cabinet have been minnows pretending they're whales. Personally, I concur with Mr. Hague, that Mr. Blair is the most disreputable and selfinterested PM that Britain has had the misfortune to be under. Come back Thatcher, all is forgiven!
Peter Crawford-Bolton, UK(in US)

The Labour Party under Tony Blair has been driven by public relations since he became leader in 1994. He came to office with the most minuscule and vacuous manifesto pledges that the country has ever known. It has wasted three years in office trying to please its opponents rather than help its supporters. Apart from a few things this government has done like devolution to Scotland and Wales, the minimum wage, it has completely lost the trust of the British people.
Neville Collins, United Kingdom

If Tony can't handle one bad afternoon, then he shouldn't be in the job in the first place!
Derek O'Brien, Northern Ireland

Yes Tony Blair got jeered so what? He might have deserved it but the media are making it out to be a big deal when really its not its just a storm in a teacup (and a bone china teacup at that)
Mike, UK

Well done the WI. Remember the headlines "24 hours to save the NHS" tis now 3 years and 24 hours and Labour have done nothing! What about the old "Education, Education, Education" I am still waiting for my children's school classes to be reduced. The WI showed the First Lord exactly what the rest of us are thinking. Again I applaud the Women's Institute.
Carl, England

A sign of things to come? Well done WI! The New Labour spin machine portrays them as something of a modern day Robin Hood. The reality is that all they want to do is rob the rich and keep it for themselves. The WI have already seen through the spin and it's about time the rest of the people in this country realised it too.
Pete, UK

I think Tony was ill advised to talk politics at the WI. However I am fed up with the amount of air time given to 'middle-England'.
Most of these people believe in market forces UNTIL it affects them. Banks are pulling out of rural communities because they are answerable to their shareholders and cannot afford to maintain the network in the face of stiff opposition. The same goes for local shops and post offices - use them or lose them!
Paul Yardley, England



The behaviour of these women was a disgrace worthy of football-hooligans

Sam, United Kingdom
I am astounded at the reaction of the media to the intolerable behaviour of some women's conference. To call the WI apolitical is absurd it is just a smokescreen. No campaigning organisation can function without interfering with politics. The behaviour of these women was a disgrace worthy of football-hooligans.
Sam, United Kingdom

Had the WI invited Tony Blair to their meeting, I would have said that if you ask a politician you're going to get politics. However, I understand that he invited himself. Therefore, what did he expect?
Lynne Morgan, UK



When the WI shows their dissatisfaction with Tony Blair the end can't be too far away

Abby, England
It is a fact that Prime Ministers throughout history have at some point during their tenure been heckled and jeered, but Tony Blair has succeeded where all before have failed. He has managed to outrage the ladies of the WI, a group not usually prone to display their unhappiness in such a visible manner.
When the WI shows their dissatisfaction with Tony Blair, the end can't be too far away. The spin has been well and truly spotted and rebuffed!
Abby, England

The response from the W.I. over 'Phoney' Blair's political posturing should remind him that despite his spin doctors and cronies he and the rest of 'New' labour are just as transparent as 'Old' labour! Time will tell. The echoes of his voice as he addressed the W.I. should remind him of the hollow promises that his party have made and not satisfied. You can only fool people for some of the time!
Alan, England



No doubt the Labour PR machine got it wrong this time - but let's not fool ourselves about the WI's 'own agenda' at this meeting

Trish, UK
I belonged to my local WI for a while, but left after becoming increasingly frustrated with the 'blue-rinse' conservative (small 'c') attitudes. And it's wrong to say they are not party-political. In my branch we were often asked to vote on issues that the WI wanted to lobby the government on, with only one side of the argument put to us.
Most of the members were in their late sixties/early seventies and Conservative (with a large 'C'!). No doubt the Labour PR machine got it wrong this time, but let's not fool ourselves about the WI's 'own agenda' at this meeting.
Trish, UK

I am so grateful to the WI for showing the Government that we will not be fobbed off by spin any longer. Let's see some promises being fulfilled for a change.
Colette, UK

If this Government continue to treat the electorate like idiots they will get a shock come polling time. Apathy tends to rule in the UK where politics is concerned, but eventually voters will bite back. Maybe now we are seeing the start of the backlash.
Paul, UK



Hooray for the WI! Something that I thought I would never write!

Dan Hyslop, UK
Hooray for the WI! Something that I thought I would never write! I like Tony Blair and what he is doing (even as an ex-member of the Tory Party). But politics is far more than about spin and unfortunately so far most people have been taken in by Alastair Campbell and co.
The only problem is from most of the responses so far is that people have instead succumbed to the Tory spin that they will win the next election. Listen to the WI Tony, drop the spin and concentrate on what we really want, proper policy debate. If you do I might even vote for you!
Dan Hyslop, UK

Have certain sections of this country completely lost the plot??? The last thing this country needs is the tories back in power. So what if a bunch of old women lost their rag. Maybe Blair does deserve it, but have people forgotten just how bad it was under the Tories?? They were dark, divisive days that destroyed this great country. If we are not careful, we will lose even more if Hague gets into power.
Matthew Davey, England

The amount of rubbish that this incident has spawned is quite ridiculous especially as many women who were actually there have stated that it was a small minority of members who took part in this action for their own reasons.
J Cahill, UK

Well done the WI! Just about the least militant organisation in Britain has given phoney Tony Blair the thumbs down for daring to use their meeting for his own egotistical political posturing and as a "sound bite".
Steve Foley, England

The WI is a rural dominated organisation. New Labour has not made any friends in the countryside over the last few years, not merely by their actions, but also by showing contempt for country people by appearing to listen more to city "activists" on countryside issues than to the people who live in the countryside themselves.
Jon Livesey, USA

I cannot believe that the "ladies who knit" of the W.I. have the audacity to accuse anyone of being "out of touch". They are a "quantum leap" away from the life of an average British citizen. Their views are most certainly not representative of the mood of the nation.
Bella, UK



Who better than the women of the country to see through the Emperor's clothes and pronounce him naked?

Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK
Who better than the women of the country to see through the Emperor's clothes and pronounce him naked? I hope that this marks the beginning of Blair's fall from grace; more power to the Women's Institute for having the courage to give Blair a kick!
Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK

I am surprised it has taken three years for Blair to receive his slow-hand clap. We all have the W.I. to thank for finally standing up for Britain. The spin was spun years ago and it's about time the British public stopped cooing over the new Blair baby and realise his father has a job to do. How long can Tony cover up his Governments mess, not all of Britain is as clever as our W.I.
Tara, UK,

I think Mr Blair's reception at the WI proves what a lot of the country feel - the opinion polls are going to get it wrong again. The honeymoon finished a year ago. You can't take the population of this country for idiots. They understand the mess made of education, Europe, health and defence. This country is instinctive, the government is opportunist.
David Shoolheifer, UK



An unknowing Tony Blair faced the WI who really wanted William Hague in front of them

Manisha, UK
Labour has had it coming...the Conservatives, especially William Hague has really made sure of that. An unknowing Tony Blair faced the WI who really wanted William Hague in front of them. That's what all this fuss is all about. I really feel sorry for him though. I think he has tried his best ... but of course some of us may never know the secrets that roam around and under politics
Manisha, UK

The WI is a non-political organisation, and Blair would do well to heed them. We are becoming sick and tired of spin, and government by stealth.
Kevin Peacock, England

How then can Blair be surprised if he gets a slow hand-clap when he trots out recycled policies and old discredited political claptrap to a non party-political organisation like the WI. More power to their elbow I say, let Labour's spin-doctors and political opportunists eat crow for a change and let's have some real action on the NHS, Education and Crime.
John Brownlee, England



Before long he is going to have to decide who he wants to please and who he can afford to irritate...

Matt Prescott, UK
The entrenched problems of this country such as poverty, class division, the long-term under-funding of public services and low academic achievement haven't disappeared within the first three years of Tony Blair rule and this is leading to a certain level of disenchantment.
Tony Blair is going to have to make painful choices and decisions if signs of change are to be pushed through in time for the next election, and before long he is going to have to decide who he wants to please and who he can afford to irritate... I get the feeling they are gearing up to show what they are made of.
Matt Prescott, UK

Tony Blair went to talk about traditional values. These include: lowering the age of homosexual consent to 16, abolition of the married couples' tax allowance, allowing homosexuals into the Armed Forces, declaring all policemen racists...The list goes on. At last Nouvelle Labour has been exposed for what it really is - a moral vacuum.
Chris Klein, UK



It's about time that Tories like you and those well-to-do knitting circles in the WI realised that we have a government that does put other groups first

Dave Hartley, UK
I must take issue with James Denning for a moment. If, Tony Blair has stood up for "minority" and "Liberal" groups as you put it, then he has my complete support.
It's about time that Tories like you and those well-to-do knitting circles in the WI realised that we have a government that does put other groups first. When MT was PM she did. They were called businessmen, and their wives. Many of whom are now in the WI!!
Dave Hartley, UK

The WI were clearly seeking an opportunity to raise their profile. To this end, their heckling was a success. I think that most people, though, are still unclear as to why the WI exist, and don't really care either.
Brendan Fernandes, UK

Tony Blair is the most out of touch Prime Minister this country has had the misfortune of having. I always believe in giving someone a chance and welcomed a breath of fresh air when they were elected even though I am a conservative voter. However, Labour have proved to be devious, arrogant and have pushed through disastrous policies. I would not be surprised if they get thrown out at the next election.
Jane Reynolds, UK



I was at Wembley for the WI meeting on 7th June, and, as a Labour voter I found the PM's speech just as offensive as the Tory ladies present

Martha, UK
I was at Wembley for the WI meeting on 7th June, and, as a Labour voter I found the PM's speech just as offensive as the Tory ladies present. He spoke to us as though we should have been honoured he had chosen to speak to us, and that this should negate any feelings about what he might actually have to say.
The attitude was very much one of "sit there like good girls and listen to me", and it was clear that there was no consideration of issues about which the WI has campaigned, nor issues which are very close to the heart of what is, after all, predominantly a rural organisation. He had a wonderful opportunity to win support from this section of the community (and started off very well!) but I'm afraid to say the usual New Labour spin blew it for him. Oh, and by the way - I am a young (20 something) professional, and not a middle aged housewife as many no doubt would assume.
Martha, UK

New Labour is nothing but PR, and not very good PR at that. Three cheers for the W.I.!
Leighton Arnold, USA

I think it was pretty unimportant. The profile of a WI member closely matches that of a traditional right winger. I do however think the press is starting to be anti-Labour which may have an affect on their chances. The BBC has been putting Hague's press releases as first or second headlines in its news reports.
KJD, England

It was an unadulterated pleasure to see the ever-so smug Tony Blair finally humiliated. After basing his entire premiership on glitz, distraction and spin, he is now finding that people are demanding substance. I sincerely hope that other bodies addressed by Mr Blair and his cabinet colleagues will treat them in the same way when they try to hide their abject failure to deal with the NHS, education and crime with sharp suits and spin.
Harry, UK



If a Prime Minister is going to address such an audience, it is only natural that he should discuss his own government's track record

Mike Cranleigh, Brit living in France
The WI speech was hyped out of all proportion by the media. A tiny percentage of WI members left the conference hall and Mr Blair's speech was by no means 'party political'. If a Prime Minister is going to address such an audience, it is only natural that he should discuss his own government's track record.
Mike Cranleigh, Brit living in France

The response to Tony Blair's blather at the WI shows that there is no easy partial retreat from a platform based on the bogus moral distinction of "old vs. new" and on an unquestioning faith in modernisation.
The best for Mr Blair, and for all of us, would be to dispense with this line altogether, and to debate each issue on its merits instead.
Brian Saker, England



If the PM goes to make a speech to what IS a politically-natured club, what do they expect him to speak about? Changing nappies?

Dave Hartley, UK
It is quite clear that a number of the people there were Conservative supporters. If the PM goes to make a speech to what IS a politically-natured club, what do they expect him to speak about? Changing nappies?
Dave Hartley, UK

The difficulty Tony Blair has is in trying to convince two groups (socialists and conservatives) that he is on their side. A look at the policies of this government show that it can only be classed as liberal (if anything). Come the next general election, William Hague will be supported by right-of-centre voters, Charles Kennedy by left-of-centre voters and Blair's big (but lightweight) tent will blow away.
Paul Munday, UK



Well the WI look as though they've seen through the PR sham

James Denning, UK
Tony Blair thinks he can get up on a stage, make a speech and that will cure his governments ails. Well the WI look as though they've seen through the PR sham and recognised that behind Mr Blair lurks a Labour Party whose traits that proved them unelectable have far from disappeared and are resurgent.
Unfortunately, having managed to produce a Cabinet of Blair stooges, they all suddenly find themselves unable to think of any decent policies and justifiably unwilling to follow the instincts of the socialist stalwarts who want to revert to the good old days. All the while there's this insane urge to foist 'change' on the UK population, embrace political correctness and pander to various trendy ideals and minority groups. So let's face it - Blair's government has turned out to be ineffective, crass and useless - should we trust them any longer to run what is a great country, with over 300 billion pounds of taxpayers money at their disposal?
James Denning, UK

What Tony Blair was trying to do was to talk about his party's conversion to liberal-conservatism. Maggie Thatcher had a name for such liberal-conservatives within her cabinet, she called them WETS. It is no surprise then that those "mothers of conservatism" the Women's Institute hand-bagged the PM in response. New Labour has turned the labour movement into the WET WET WET party. No wonder it is in a soggy mess.
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland



New Labour is still way ahead in the opinion polls and I think they will win the next general election

John, UK
What is surprising is that it has taken three years of New Labour for the Prime Minister to receive his first slow hand clap. With previous PM's this always happened frequently. New Labour is still way ahead in the opinion polls and I think they will win the next general election because not may of us want the Tories back. At least the W.I. reception may help New Labour to re-focus on what it stood for three years ago and what it still needs to do.
John, UK


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08 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Spin doctors blamed over WI speech
08 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Labour goes on the offensive
07 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Women give Blair hostile reception
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