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Wednesday, 11 September, 2002, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Kennedy to make TUC history
Charles Kennedy
Kennedy will hope for an open-minded reception
Charles Kennedy will make TUC history when he becomes the first non-Labour political leader to address delegates in Blackpool.

His speech comes on the day the union delivered another assault on Tony Blair's plans to bring private companies into the public sector.

And it coincides with a debate on the euro which is expected to see some of the biggest unions opposing the TUC's official pro-single currency line.

Mr Kennedy will seek to persuade the unions to work with the Liberal Democrats on issues like employment rights and the social agenda.

Observers will be particularly eager to gauge the reception he receives the day after Tony Blair was given a less than enthusiastic welcome.


There is no doubt Mr Kennedy's party picked up many votes from disgruntled Labour supporters at the last election

His hope is that, with union militancy again on the rise and continued disillusion with the Labour government, he will find a receptive and open-minded audience.

His party's policies on taxation to fund good public services and swift entry into the single currency particularly appeal to many at this conference.

But delegates will also warm to his stand on foreign affairs - particularly on Iraq, which closely echoes that of the unions - and on civil liberties.

Mr Kennedy's platform has regularly been described as to the left of the Labour party, although he rejects that tag.

Cut cash

But there is no doubt that his party picked up many votes from disgruntled Labour supporters at the last election.

Despite moves by some unions to cut cash donations to Labour and withdraw sponsorship from some Labour MPs, there is no sign they are about to get into bed with the Liberal Democrats.

Estelle Morris, Education Secretary
Estelle Morris talked about the importance of education
Still, Mr Kennedy could probably not have chosen a better time to appeal directly to the unions.

His speech follows Education Secretary Estelle Morris's earlier address to the conference and there was critical debate on public services in general.

The prime minister clearly failed to win over many of his union critics in his keynote speech in which he repeated his demand for investment in services to go hand-in-hand with reform.

Many unions are still deeply worried about the use of the private sector in the public services.

'Over-crowded prisons'

This anger at the prime minister's policy was demonstrated with a vote objecting to public private partnerships.

Colin Moses, from the Prison Officers' Association, told delegates that the service was "critically over-crowded".

The TUC is calling for all prisons to return to the public sector.

Mr Moses said jails in England and Wales were housing 71,500 prisoners - 9,670 more than they were built for.

He claimed double cells at Bullingdon Prison, near Oxford, were housing three people and a toilet.

Euro

"We are critically over-crowded. Assaults, concerted acts of indiscipline and staff leaving the service are all on the increase," said Mr Moses.

"The government needs to positively intervene in our penal system before it is too late."

There will also be another contentious debate on the euro - an issue which has seen unions at odds with each other.

The debates come on the first anniversary of the 11 September atrocity, which has hung over this conference.

The occasion will be marked here, as elsewhere, with a minute's silence.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Cape
"Mr Kennedy's anxious to develop a relationship with the movement"

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28 Dec 01 | Politics
11 Sep 02 | Business
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