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Saturday, July 10, 1999 Published at 18:02 GMT 19:02 UK

UK Politics

Blair and Prescott counter rift rumours

Tony Blair and John Prescott have denied talk of a rift

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his deputy have moved to end reports of a rift between them, with both warning party members to stay unified if they want Labour to win a second term in office.

In a speech to a Labour rally in Scarborough, Mr Blair praised John Prescott and the public servants he accused of being resistant to change earlier this week.

The BBC's Guto Harri: "An ideal opportunity to set the record straight"
He said modern public services were "the key" to what he wanted to achieve in government.

"It is because this government believes in public service, because we recognise its potential that we will always be the friends of the good and the enemy of the second rate," he said.

[ image: Blair: Much reform still needed in the public sector]
Blair: Much reform still needed in the public sector
He paid tribute to the "vast majority of people in our public services who are working with the government to deliver real change at every level".

"But better public services don't happen just by wanting them," he said. "They need money, change, reform, modernisation, encouraging the good service, rooting out the bad service."

He added that Mr Prescott shared his vision of "a vibrant, popular, confident public service delivering to the people of this country".

Mr Blair pledged that the government would not return to the days of old Labour administrations where there was tension between ministers and grassroots members.

Tony Blair: "I believe in public services. I value public servants"
"Let's not go back to those days. If those days come back we will end up back in opposition."

Later, the deputy prime minister reinforced the message that New Labour is delivering for all sections of the electorate in a speech to a miners' gala in Durham.

[ image: Prescott: Jeered for love of
Prescott: Jeered for love of "Middle England"
Mr Prescott insisted Labour was a coalition of both the left and right, and said to make lasting changes to society the party had to win a second term with Tony Blair.

"To achieve that we don't need to talk right and walk left, we don't need to talk left and walk right," he said.

"We simply need to talk straight and do the right thing."

He said as the government entered its mid-term phase people needed patience and perseverance.

Heckled by miners

"Some of our policies like the National Minimum Wage have an immediate impact. Other will take time to bear fruit. Some issues are painful to deal with, but we must stick to our guns.

The BBC's Guto Harri: Money for public services gets soaked up in bureaucracy
"When we say that we have 400,000 more people in work, that we are boosting our schools and hospitals, that we are fighting crime on our streets and congestion on our roads, it is not a question of choosing between Daily Mail readers or Daily Mirror readers - we must deliver for the whole country," he said.

"The benefit of these policies is not the preserve of the family in the council estate or the man in the Volvo estate. They are for the many not the few."

Mr Prescott was jeered throughout his speech by activists who unfurled banners protesting at the treatment of the Liverpool dockers and the sale of arms to Indonesia.

The protesters tried to shout down the deputy prime minister but were themselves jeered by the thousands who had turned up to hear Mr Prescott.

Aim to end wrangling

Reports of a rift between Mr Blair and Mr Prescott began on Tuesday when the prime minister strayed from a prepared text at a meeting with entrepreneurs to hit out at resistance to change in the public sector.

The following day Mr Prescott chose a local government conference to praise the dedication of public sector employees.

Saturday's speeches were the first in a series of addresses by senior ministers over the next few weeks, designed to spell out the government's position after two years in office and end wrangling over Old versus New Labour values.

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