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Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
The legacy of Blackpool
Prime Minister Tony Blair at the TUC conference
Blair addressed a rebellious conference

There may not have been a lynching - but the TUC conference was still a pretty acrimonious affair.

And, as it drew to a close, most left Blackpool fearing that their expressions of frustration and anger over government policy had achieved little or nothing.

They told Tony Blair in no uncertain terms that he should not declare war on Saddam Hussein without unequivocal UN support.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy at the TUC
Kennedy's warm welcome
And they only narrowly defeated a motion demanding no military action against Iraq under any circumstances.

They warned the prime minister once again that his plans for the public services would not work.

And they threatened yet more industrial strife over the coming months, with tube workers, firefighters and public sector workers all ready to take strike action.

Low key

The prime minister also heard calls from a number of union leaders for a return of flying pickets and the scrapping of all Tory-introduced union legislation.

The conference even welcomed Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy after he made an historic speech urging closer co-operation between them and his party.

And, of course, they gave the prime minister the iciest of cold shoulders after what many had billed as his most important conference speech ever.

But, while the prime minister adopted a low key approach during his address, he left the delegates in little doubt that they could forget it.

He would indeed go to the UN before he took action against Saddam. But if the UN rejected his demands he and his pal George Bush would press ahead regardless.

The prime minister emphatically ruled out any return of secondary action or the scrapping of trade union laws.

Gone for good

And he accused the new breed of left wing union leaders of the sort of self-indulgent rabble rousing that belonged to the history books.

Mr Blair veered just the right side of lecturing when he reminded them of the benefits they had already received under New Labour.

TUC general secretary John Monks
Monks praised Blair
But he tried very hard to whip up the old spirit of "we're in this together, brothers" that once personified this gathering.

For many, however, there is now, the overwhelming feeling that the joined-at-the-hip relationship between the unions and the Labour party - and certainly the government - has gone for good.

There were those who were delighted with the week in Blackpool.

The TUC general secretary John Monks, a moderate Blairite, claimed the prime minister had made his best speech yet to the unions.

And he was happy at Mr Blair's reassurances over Iraq.

Growing rift

Mr Monks undoubtedly speaks for a large number of trades unionists who will also have been content with the events in Blackpool.

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein
Action against Saddam dominates
They will claim they had their say and engaged in a dialogue with a prime minister who had proved his willingness to listen.

But it is hard to escape the feeling that this gathering did nothing to heal the growing rift between the government and the unions, particularly those headed by the new breed of leaders.

And that could yet spell serious trouble for Mr Blair.

Continuing rows over the public services and a rash of strikes would be bad enough.

But if he fails to alter minds over the issue now dominating everything - Iraq - and launches action in the face of the sort of overwhelming opposition he saw here, he could be leaving himself isolated and friendless.

An extremely dangerous place for a prime minister to find himself.


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