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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Analysis: Blair's performance
Prime minister Tony Blair addressing the Labour party conference
Blair set out his vision of a new world order
Nick Assinder

This was by far the most important speech Tony Blair has ever made.

His address to the Labour faithful in Brighton effectively declared war on another state, it attempted to set out his own political ideology more coherently than ever before, and it looked forward to a new world order based on a sense of community.

He suggested that the new unity being forged in the wake of the US attacks could be used to tackle conflicts as wide-ranging as those in Africa, Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

And he was clearly implying that he could play a leading part in that transformation of the global scene.

He gave one of his strongest pro-single currency speeches and emphasised more clearly than ever before his admiration for the USA.

He even attempted to put faith at the heart of politics and claim a moral imperative for action against terrorism and other enemies of democracy.

Old Labour coffin

It was a powerful performance and will define his leadership for the foreseeable future. It could even change the nature of the Labour Party itself.

This was an archetypal New Labour speech, and the prime minister was determined to use it as the hammer to knock the final nails into the old Labour coffin.

There were some question marks raised over the tone of his words to the Taleban after he appeared to give them a final chance to hand over Osama Bin Laden before military action was taken against them.

On the eve of his speech it had been suggested he was going to tell the Kabul regime that they had finally run out of time and that action was inevitable.

But, when he delivered his address, he said: "I say to the Taleban - surrender the terrorists or surrender power. It's your choice."

It was immediately claimed that the prime minister had been engaging in brinkmanship and an attempt to bolster his position as the most important world player after President Bush.

But senior sources insisted the messages were the same, and they left little doubt that military action was now a foregone conclusion.

Most active leader

The prime minister clearly believes the atrocity of 11 September has offered him a unique opportunity to take a leading role on the world stage.

Next to President George Bush, he has been the most active leader trying to forge the coalition of states opposing international terrorism.

It has seen his standing around the world significantly enhanced.

And with little appetite for internal conflict currently gripping the Labour party, it has significantly strengthened his leadership of his party at a time when rows over the public services could have been dominating events.

He suggested the new spirit of community being built in the wake of 11 September had always been at the core of his personal political, and even spiritual beliefs.

Values not enough

He also moved to finally exorcise the remaining old Labour spirits still haunting the party.

In a key section of his address he declared the values that had always underpinned the Labour party - of community, social justice, democracy and a commitment to the weak and poor - had not changed.

"But values aren't enough. The mantle of leadership comes at a price - the courage to learn and change, to show how values that stand for all ages can be applied in a way relevant to each age.

"Our politics only succeed when the realism is as clear as the idealism."

He even went so far as to claim that New Labour's currrent economic and social policies: "owed as much to the liberal social democratic tradition of Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge as to the socialist principles of the 1945 Labour government."

That is the sort of remark that would have seen him howled down even a year ago, but at the moment his party is overwhelmingly behind him and appear open to his message.

The real tests are still to come, however. The first will be when military action against the Taleban starts and there is the likelihood of British casualties.

The second will come when the crisis has calmed and the Labour party decides to what extent it is ready to follow its leader down his re-invigorated New Labour path.

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Matthew Paris and Donald McIntyre
analyse the signifance of Blair's speech
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