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EDITIONS
Monday, 30 September, 2002, 00:02 GMT 01:02 UK
Blair's hit or miss request show
Tony Blair in the question and answer show
Blair looked startled by the garish decor

The nightclub stage looked ready for a performance by a Seventies-style DJ and his dancing girls.

Glitter balls hung from a ceiling illuminated by a starry cascade of flashing lights as a bustling crowd of young people, their feet glued to the beer-sticky carpet, waited for the star attraction to appear.

The warm up act at the Blackpool nightclub, young MP David Lammy, even boasted that the last act he had introduced was R' n B' Diva Alicia Keys.

But instead of Dr Zeus and his Fabulous Flirtations - as one might expect in such surroundings the star who emerged looking slightly startled at the garish decor was Tony Blair.

Going live

"It's great to be here," he beamed, glancing upwards at the glitter ball. "I don't quite know how to characterise this but in Labour terms - quite New Labour, I think."

This was the chance for young Labour activists to put their questions to the prime minister - the political equivalent, perhaps, of a DJ's special request show.

Only near the end of the hour-long session did anybody tell Mr Blair he was "going out live" on satellite television and not just recording his latest video.

Tony Blair
Blair's conviction about Iraq was clear
The requests soon hit upon a few firm favourites: calls for lowering the age for voting; education worries and demands for better sports facilities.

But there was only one real show in town - and the audience could not get enough of it - Iraq just kept coming bouncing back at the prime minister.

Tara asked how Mr Blair could justify a war against Iraq, especially with the "double standards" shown by the lack of action against Israel's wrongdoings.

Familiar tune

Another young woman argued innocent children were going to be killed if Iraq was attacked - and was there not the risk of alienating Muslim opinion?

There was another "simple" question - would the UK "go it alone" with America if United Nations backing could not be obtained?

George Bush
Blair says Bush is too often parodied in the press

These were sentiments which won applause from the activists in this Blackpool nightclub.

The prime minister played again what has become a well-worn record in recent weeks as he stressed he did not want to go to war.

"In the end we have a decision as a world community," he said.

"We either take action to make sure Saddam Hussein complies or alternatively we are going to rue the consequences."

'No religious divide'

On Israel, there would be efforts to restart the Middle East peace process, he said, but such concerns did not affect the importance of tackling the Iraq crisis.

Mr Blair was at pains to argue the crisis was not a religious division. Indeed, Saddam had used weapons of mass destruction against Muslims, not Christians.

His message was the same tune that has been oft heard on the air waves in recent months but this passionate rendition earned strong support from the audience, despite the presence of so many doubters.

'Anti-Americanism'

There were still significant voices of dissent and Mr Blair was not to end the evening with a gentle slow dance.

The last questioner asked why he seemed more willing to listen to the "intellectual lightweight" George Bush than his own party.

He continued: "Frankly, we don't believe what you're saying. The decision is not in you hands, it's in America's hands.

"It would be nice to have a Labour prime minister working for peace."

Mr Blair countered by railing against "dangerous" anti-Americanism and extolling the virtues of the UK-US relationship.

It was a rallying cry which earned him more applause, but this week will show whether his tune on Iraq is really proving a hit or a miss with the Labour Party.


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See also:

27 Sep 99 | Politics
06 Jun 02 | Politics
24 Mar 99 | Politics
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