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Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Blair leaves doubters behind
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair has moved into new territory

There could hardly have been a more graphic picture of a once-united party heading off in two entirely different directions.

In what all would agree was a powerful and defining speech, Tony Blair set his sights on the horizon, pressed his pedal to the metal - and waved goodbye to a large section of the Labour movement.

And probably the most astonishing thing about the entire event was that no one seemed astonished.

Labour Party conference
A respectful audience?
The delegates did not monster him over Iraq. There was the odd anti-war slogan and more than a few sat on their hands.

And the unions were clearly incensed at his unbending commitment to private finance in the public services. But they didn't even attempt to heckle.


Instead, the overwhelming feeling at the end of the prime minister's most important conference speech ever - and arguably one of his most significant speeches of any sort - was of resignation.

Those who were with their man loved every sweat-soaked second of it.

They could not have wished for a more passionate, even visionary speech from the man who has handed them two historic election victories.

He stiffened their resolve to forge onwards to that new era of renewal which awaits them - if they continue to boldly go where no Labour government has gone before.

And he undoubtedly even inspired many with his evangelism and promises of a golden dawn.

He gave no quarter over Iraq but instead made probably his most potent defence yet of his policy. No one can doubt he is ready to act alongside George Bush if the UN fails in what he clearly believes is its historic duty.

And he expressed an irritation verging on real anger over those opposed to his PFI initiatives which he believes are the only way of delivering his election pledges on schools and hospitals.

No turning

There were no announcements in the speech. Indeed there have not been, nor will there be, any announcements throughout this conference. That is not the point of it all.

Saddam Hussein
No quarter for Saddam
This is all about Tony Blair. A leader who believes he has out grown his party. And they know it.

The critics - and there are still plenty of them - already knew the leader of the New Labour party was not for turning.

They also knew, because they had been told often enough, that there was absolutely nothing they could do about it.

They listened, they undoubtedly fumed, but they also appeared to accept that they are no longer part of Tony Blair's plans.

Whether the prime minister intended to finally cast adrift the old Labour section of the party, or whether this was simply an inevitable consequence of his wider message is unclear. Many will assume this was quite deliberate.

The prime minister could have gone one of two ways this week. He could have compromised, concilliated or simply given in.

Or he could have stood firm, rejected and moved on. It is a gamble, many will even see it as hugely courageous, but he has emphatically chosen the latter.

How the people he has left behind will react is anybody's guess. This is a turning point for the Labour movement.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Click to watch his speech to the Labour conference

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See also:

01 Oct 02 | Politics
30 Sep 02 | Business
01 Oct 02 | Politics
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