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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Blair's turning point
Tony Blair
Things went better than expected for Mr Blair

This was a turning point conference for Tony Blair and the Labour party.


Most of them liked it, a very sizeable proportion will have to lump it. And how they react to that is still an open question

And the prime minister had a far better time of it than anyone expected and that many believe he deserved.

The prime minister is at the top of his game at the moment.

He achieved his success by simply re-stating his position on a range of issues like Iraq, the Private Finance Initiative and education, demanding more boldness, and telling delegates they can like it or lump it.

President Bill Clinton addressing the Labour conference
Clinton thrilled the conference
Most of them liked it, a very sizeable proportion will have to lump it. And how they react to that is still an open question.

But they now know more clearly than ever before that this is no longer their party.

New Labour is no longer "becoming", as Bill Clinton might say, it has become.

This was the conference where Tony Blair finally took the step he has been hesitating over from day one.

Delight

And it was a million mile long stride away from the old comrades who were trying to flex their muscles.

Tony Blair addressing the Labour conference
Going his own way?
The prime minister's delight at his week was evident in a surprise end-of-conference press briefing.

This really was the fag end of the conference.

Just as everyone was packing their bags for a quick getaway from Blackpool - a contradiction in terms thanks to the rail and motorway networks - Tony Blair called his monthly news conference.

What on earth was there possibly left to say?

Virtually nothing, as it turned out. And the press conference was barely half full.

Embarrassed organisers made the fatal mistake of asking some of the media if they wouldn't mind moving forward a bit so they could take out some of the empty chairs.

"No. This was your idea and we are not here to doughnut the prime minister for the TV cameras," was one of the more polite responses.

Mopping up

Doormen and officials were then drafted in to fill the empty spaces. It didn't work.

Mr Blair strolled in, cast his eye around the room and, professional that he is, immediately spotted the problem.

Labour conference
Some delegates will have to lump it
"Sorry. I gather some of you wanted to leave last night, so I am sorry," he fibbed.

In fact, not even the promise of a prime ministerial news conference had persuaded many to stay in Blackpool a day longer than necessary and there were some notable absentees.

Those left behind to mop up were distinctly fractious.

But perhaps that is all part of the plan. The prime minister's new openness and transparency has been a huge success for him.

Problems

Nobody has managed to wrong foot him, force any revelations from him, or even get under his skin.

The prime minister is in buoyant mood and, while looking tired, was clearly enjoying himself.

He knows there are still serious problems on the horizon - the euro, foundation hospitals, public sector anger, to name just a few.

But if this week is anything to go by, there will be no turning.


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03 Oct 02 | Politics
03 Oct 02 | Politics
03 Oct 02 | Business

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