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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
Opinion divided over Blair speech
Tony Blair
Not everyone was pleased with the speech
Tony Blair's conference address failed to woo some of his left-wing MPs and fiercest critics, although party loyalists claimed it will help unite the party.

Medway Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews, a critic of the government on some issues, said: "I'm sorry to say that I found the speech rather embarrassing."

Theresa May, Conservative party chairman, said the speech had opened up the "divisions" between Mr Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown "for all to see".

Tony Blair says that there is 'no turning back', but this speech shows he is turning his back on the British people
Charles Kennedy

But Lord Hattersley, a former Labour deputy leader and one of Mr Blair's harshest critics, said the address was "conciliatory" and had been "the right speech for the occasion".

"What we wanted today, and what I think we got, was a speech that demonstrated that he had a fellow-feeling with party members," he said.

"What he said about public services and public service workers was right. We wanted a speech that would heal some of the wounds and I hope that that is what has happened."


But anti-war campaigner Alice Mahon, MP for Halifax, said: "I was very disappointed. He offered no change on university fees, on foundation hospitals or on the war.

"That might be all right here in the goldfish bowl, but when I go out on the doorsteps out there in the real world, these things are deeply unpopular."

There was no attempt to please, to smooth, to touch the G-spots of Labour, it was an extraordinary speech of crystalline leadership and it was addressed to the country
Denis MacShane

Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, complained that Iraq only "merited" three minutes and "no answers" were given on weapons of mass destruction.

He said Mr Blair seemed to think "he is not for turning" on university fees or foundation hospitals. "He has got to understand that the public need him to turn," he said.

Mr Marshall-Andrews added: "Our leader's tendency towards schmaltz was well represented in that speech, and a great deal of it was completely inaccurate and not dealing with the real problems.

"How can you claim to be improving educational opportunity by introducing top-up fees or improving health care with foundation hospitals or access to the courts by abolishing civil legal aid? It seems to me to be unbelievable."

'Back turned?'

Mrs May said Mr Blair had used his speech to "shore up support in his own party".

"He made the usual appeal for more time and asked people to trust him again. But we've heard this all before. After 60 tax rises and endless broken promises, people know that Labour are simply taxing, spending and failing."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: "Tony Blair says that there is 'no turning back', but this speech shows he is turning his back on the British people.

"The prime minister seems to believe that listening to people's concern is to retreat. It is not. Tony Blair should lecture less and listen more."

Kevin Curran, general secretary of the GMB, argued that "it was not a speech that gave us a radical vision for the future".

Leadership qualities

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said it was a "downbeat" speech.

"Unions represent seven million working people and it's about time this government starting reconnecting with their supporters."

Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus, said the Labour party should be "proud and pleased" to have a leader like Mr Blair.

"The inspiration provided by the prime minister should carry us forward, but it is important to see things happen rather than just said."

Sir Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, said Mr Blair had made a "significant start" in winning the party back, but the job had not been completed.

'Clear message'

Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said he believed Mr Blair now understood the message that he had not been listening to the wider labour movement, but he added: "We want to see action, not just words."

Europe Minister Denis MacShane said: "I thought the standing ovation at the end, which is the longest of any I've seen for a Labour party leader in 30 years, was a very clear message coming from the party to the media and our critics - that yes, we've got problems, but we are uniting around the government of Tony Blair.

"There was no attempt to please, to smooth, to touch the G-spots of Labour, it was an extraordinary speech of crystalline leadership and it was addressed to the country."

Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "I thought it was a good speech ... This isn't a party that is in the mood for self indulgent talk about leadership, but is already focusing on delivering our public sector reforms."

Digby Jones, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "Business will be pleased to hear that there is no turning back on the much-needed change and reform in the delivery of more bang for the taxpayer's pound."

Kate Hudson, chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said she was "very disappointed" that Mr Blair sought to justify the war on Iraq.

The BBC's Guto Harri
"This was a man offering leadership based on tough decisions"

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