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Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 18:29 GMT
Blair says thank you
Prime Minister Tony Blair in St Albans
Tony Blair was in his element
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

Just in case people hadn't got the message, Tony Blair repeated it again and again.

Hosting a question and answer session with Labour supporters in St Albans, he opened by declaring: "Thanks, thanks a lot ... first of all, thank you."

Behind him were placards declaring, "thank you". And just a couple of hours later he went onto national TV to say, "thank you."

At the same time, he has sent thousands of "thank you" letters to Labour supporters.

So, the prime minister wants to thank people. He wants to thank them for giving him the chance to transform Britain and letting him deliver a stable economy, more nurses, new jobs, better schools and so on.

What he really wants, of course, is for voters to say "thank you" to him - particularly in the ballot boxes next May, or whenever the election comes.

But he hasn't been hearing too much of that of late and it is unseemly for any politician to go around seeking gratitude.

He believes that, if he can hammer home the government's successes then they will see the light.

But getting that message across has proved difficult for him and he clearly needed a new approach.

Half full

So the "thank you campaign" has been devised by his spin doctors as a way of letting him go around the country boasting about Labour's achievements while still looking humble.

The fact that it has been targeted particularly at Labour voters is significant.

The prime minister knows that many traditional supporters are deeply disillusioned with his government.

He also knows that, if they sit on their hands at the next general election, his hope of an historic second term may yet be dashed.

It is no good lecturing them about the government's achievements. Instead he wants to remind them that, without their support at the last election he would not have been able to do any of it.

As he kept saying in St Albans: "I believe the glass is half full rather than half empty."

At the same time, he wants them to feel loved. Many traditional "heartlands" Labour supporters have felt ignored and taken for granted since the 1997 election.

The new campaign is a calculated attempt to keep them on board and reassure them that they are still vital to Labour's fortunes.

It is also part of the wider general election campaign which is well and truly under way.

Soft questions

The question and answer session is the nearest thing going to the old fashioned election meetings . And Mr Blair is pretty good at them.

Admittedly the St Albans audience looked like it had been very carefully selected to ensure there would be no repeat of the Women's Institute fiasco.

But it was clear Mr Blair felt at home in this environment. He paced around the hall in shirt sleeves, answering detailed, if soft, questions about everything from the health service to the fuel protests.

He was even drawn into talking about his personal life and the prospect of yet more children.

"Enough is enough. There will be no more," he said.

But his basic message was the serious one of attempting to put across the government's message.

And it was summed up in his statements: "I know people want change and they want it fast, and people perfectly naturally get frustrated by the pace of change, but I believe the glass genuinely is half full not half empty.

"Nobody can say nothing has changed or their vote doesn't count. We understand the frustration at the pace of change but the glass indeed is half full not half empty. Your vote does count."

In other words, get out and vote - thank you.

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See also:

14 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Blair's 'patriotic' European vision
25 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tories call for election debates
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