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Thursday, October 21, 1999 Published at 01:23 GMT 02:23 UK

UK Politics

Blair rounds on public sector

Mr Blair attacked the "forces of conservatism" in his party conference speech

Prime Minister Tony Blair has made a fresh attack on those public sector workers who he says are holding back improvements in education and the health service.

His remarks in a BBC interview risk further alienating doctors, nurses and teachers who are already angry at Mr Blair for including them in his criticism of the "forces of conservatism" standing in the way of the government's reforms.

They also threaten to revive his row with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott who jumped to the defence of public servants after Mr Blair said he bore "scars" from attempts to impose change on them.

The BBC's Niall Dickson: "Labour had promised great things"
However, Labour hopes the message will strike a chord with those parts of the electorate who are unhappy at the pace of improvement in the delivery of vital services.

Mr Blair said that intransigent elements within the health service were stopping patients having a real choice about how they were treated.

"My response to those who oppose change is to say you look at my mailbag from people round the country who say, 'I heard what you said a couple of week ago about seeing the doctor I need to see on the day I want to see them in a way that is convenient to me. But where is it?'."

His comments follow the publication of a survey of 60,000 patients indicating widespread dissatisfaction at difficulties in getting an appointment with a GP because of inconvenient surgery opening times.

Mr Blair said it would be impossible to sustain "the old-fashioned idea of a health service" where a patient was treated in way that was "convenient to the practitioner but isn't actually convenient to the patient".

'Removing the bad'

Turning to education he attacked teachers who were opposed to his controversial plans for performance-related pay.

"There are many fine and good schools around the country. The vast majority of teachers are doing a good job. But there are still some teachers, schools, education authorities that are just far below the standards we need," he said.

"So what have we got do is get the money and investment in but tie it to the change and modernisation. Make sure we are removing the bad and rewarding the good."

Mr Blair is set to reiterate this theme in a speech to new headteachers on Thursday to highlight the success of literacy and numeracy strategies in England's primary schools.

'Forces of conservatism'

He first attacked the "forces of conservatism" in his speech to Labour's party conference last month.

[ image: Nigel de Gruchy: Mr Blair is blaming teachers and doctors for his own failures]
Nigel de Gruchy: Mr Blair is blaming teachers and doctors for his own failures
The Tories responded with outrage at what they saw as an attack on them and their supporters.

Commentators also speculated on the wisdom of Mr Blair appearing to launch an onslaught on small-C "conservatives" when New Labour had spared no effort before the 1997 election in courting the votes of Middle England.

Since Labour's conference, party spindoctors have sought to shift the emphasis of the phrase to public sector workers in education, the health service and local government who have

However, Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) has accused the prime minister of trying to unload blame for his own failings.

Commenting after Mr Blair's latest remarks, he said: "It's rather unedifying to see the prime minister thrashing about blaming unspecified numbers of teachers and doctors for his own government's failure to deliver on election promises, based on the dubious evidence of his postbag.

"He should see my postbag from teachers."

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