Tuesday, September 28, 1999 Published at 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Blair sparks election speculation
Loooking ahead: Tony Blair salutes the Labour faithful
By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder
Tony Blair has fanned election fever with a hugely-political speech to the Labour conference.
The prime minister set out his personal political vision for a Conservative-free 21st century and, in a sentence which sent election speculation rattling around the conference centre, declared: "Roll on the next general election."
The opposition parties are already working on the basis that, if the economy continues to look good, Mr Blair could call a cut and run poll next autumn. His comments will only fuel the speculation.
Apart from a commitment to offer NHS dentistry within the next two years there were few new policy initiatives.
Instead, Mr Blair concentrated on reminding activists just what his government had already achieved and mapping out his dream of a new century of radicalism.
He also revealed his own personal anxieties as prime minister and spoke of sleepless nights, worries about his children and the loneliness of the job.
He savaged the Tory party in a particularly stinging section in which he branded them as a bunch of weirdoes.
He declared the class war over and he attempted to define both his own brand of democratic socialism and his moral crusade.
It was a hugely personal and powerful speech which aimed at re-energising activists, some of whom have become deeply disillusioned with his performance over the past two-and-a-half years and to lift the conference's sights to the next election.
And it was a confident speech given by a leader who knows that, if there was a general election tomorrow, he would probably walk it.
He attempted to woo his traditional supporters by sounding full of radical zeal while, at the same time not scaring off the Middle England voters who put him in Downing Street.
And, by speaking about his personal worries in the top job, he attempted to show a human face that would capture the hearts not just the minds of his party.
"When I pledge to end child poverty in 20 years, I do so not just as a politician, but as a father. We're only flesh and blood in the end.
"Sometimes can't sleep. Worry about the job. Worry about the kids. Worry about growing old. Worry about interest rates going up. Worry about Newcastle going down.
"Then you've got these big worries - when's the health money really going to make a difference? Why are there still people sleeping in doorways? Can't we turn round failing schools more quickly? How many of our pensioners will go cold this winter?
"It's a big job. A lonely job. The red boxes really do come at you day and night, papers to read, decisions to make. Sometimes life and death decisions. Often decisions, after all the advice and the consultation, that only the prime minister can make," he said.
He spoke of creating: "a model 21st century nation, based not on privilege, class or background, but on the equal worth of all."
And he ridiculed the Tory party, saying: "There's only one thing you need to know about today's Tory Party.
"Clarke and Heseltine - outcasts. Hague, Widdecombe, Redwood and Portillo in charge.
Weak, weak, weak
"The only Party that spent two years in hibernation in search of a new image and came back as the Addams family.
"Under John Major, it was weak, weak, weak. Under William Hague, it's weird, weird, weird. Far right, far out."
He injected passion into the sections of the speech which set out his own personal philosophy and spoke of his frustration at the slow pace of reform.
"Do you think I don't feel this, in every fibre of my being? The frustration, the impatience, the urgency, the anger at the waste of lives unfulfilled, hopes never achieved, dreams never realised.
He also tried to define exactly where New Labour differs from the old party which so often revelled in taunting its leaders at conference and adopting electorally disastrous policies.
"The class war is over. But the struggle for true equality has only just begun. For the 21st century will not be about the battle between capitalism and socialism but between the forces of progress and the forces of conservatism," he said.
And he ended with a clear election rallying call. "Let us step up the pace. Be confident. Be radical.
"To every nation a purpose. To every Party a cause. And now, at last, Party and nation joined in the same cause for the same purpose - to set our people free."
To some it was too evangelical, even cloying. But the overwhelming majority were delighted by the words and there was little doubt he had succeeded in his task of reminding his party just why they voted for him in the first place.
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