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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
Blair keeps them guessing
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

If Gordon Brown's conference speech was that of a leader, of a man eager to get on with the job of implementing his agenda for Britain, Tony Blair's was of a different order.

Tony Blair
Are we witnessing the start of the handover of power?
It seemed to be the speech of a politician celebrating his achievements and mapping out big challenges ahead which the party, whoever its leader, will have to meet, and offering what he believes is the only way of doing that.

Mr Blair certainly mapped out a busy policy programme, on everything from pensions and welfare through transport and the health service to local government and law and order, which will take several years to complete.

And he showed no obvious sign that he was not fully prepared to complete that task himself.

But it was also clear he was attempting to ensure that, if he goes sooner rather than later, his successor will be locked into his reforms - that they were bigger than him.

'Public anger'

In a key section, he declared: "Some day, some party will make this country at ease with globalisation. Let it be this one.

"Some day, we will forge a new consensus on our public services. Let it be us, who believe in them, and let us do it now.

There are those suggesting that the 2006 conference will mark the end of the perceived handover

"Some day, some party will respond to the public's anger at the defeatism that has too often gripped our response to social disorder.

"Let it be the party that understands compassion as well as firmness is the only way a true community can be built," he said.

He described his party as the "change-makers" and delivered a powerful plea for it not to abandon its New Labour face.

"Without New Labour we might have won once, even twice. But not three times and now still dominant," he said.

'Sad episode'

Now, he insisted, was the time to renew the party again to meet fresh challenges, just as it had done with the creation of New Labour.

And he lamented what he clearly sees as the wasted years of Old Labour that, he claimed, had seen some of the party's greatest figures like Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins, Tony Benn and Michael Foot embroiled in a "sad episode of charges of betrayal, questioning integrity and motives" that damned them to opposition.

It all amounted to a demand for his party to continue his process of almost perpetual revolution in order to keep ahead of the game, domestically and globally.

Mr Blair touched on the difficult issues of his war on terror, and Iraq but he did not dwell on either

He also spent a large section of his speech reminding delegates of the great advances they had already made, albeit that they were often "quiet advances" - like laws on domestic violence, paid holiday for all and free museum entry - that decided the "character and culture" of a nation.

This was the answer to all those party members and others who ask exactly what the New Labour government has achieved in eight years in power.

Handover

Mr Blair touched on the difficult issues of his war on terror, and Iraq but he did not dwell on either.

Neither did he waste too much time dealing with the two opposition parties.

This was a speech which had far more to do with the Labour Party, or more specifically, the New Labour party.

And those at this conference who believe they are witnessing the start of a not-so-protracted handover of power from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown will undoubtedly see further evidence of that in the this speech.

Others have suggested it was designed to show a man who has not run out of ideas and is as eager as ever to complete his agenda of reform and renewal.

Celebration

If that is the case, Gordon Brown and his supporters may have something to say about it.

But all are asking whether Mr Blair and Mr Brown can come back to this conference in 12 months time with nothing between them changed and with the biggest question still unanswered.

There are those suggesting that the 2006 conference will mark the end of the perceived handover and will turn into a celebration of the prime minister's successes and the crowning of prime minister Brown.

Exactly what Mr Blair, or even Mr Brown, have in mind remains unknown and, as a result, is probably still the dominant question for the party and the government.


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