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The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"Today's ministers will be on the offensive"
 real 28k

Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 06:21 GMT 07:21 UK
Labour goes on the offensive
Tony Blair
Taking charge: Labour will launch two new initiatives
Cabinet ministers are attempting to refocus public attention on the government's achievements, after the Prime Minister's hostile reception at the Women's Institute conference on Wednesday.

Some Labour MPs are said to have privately admitted the event was an embarrassment, questioning whether it was the right speech for the right audience.

Labour must now go back on the offensive, after being forced on the ropes in recent weeks by the Conservatives' series of high-profile policy launches.

The Trade Secretary Stephen Byers stressed the theme of "opportunity for all" in a speech in London, while Home Secretary Jack Straw set out new proposals to tackle drug-related crime.

Many senior government figures are still said to be worried the party is losing touch with its core supporters, at a time when they need to win more voters in the run-up to the general election.

While Labour is still ahead in the opinion polls, the Conservatives have gained confidence and ground after a number of headline-hitting addresses on policy initiatives.

Poor reception

After what Mr Blair had hoped would be a speech to win back the political initiative from the Tories, he received poor applause and criticism from some Women's Institute members on Wednesday.

Some women even walked out in protest, saying the speech was too long and too overtly political.

Mr Blair said the government's spending round this summer would help ensure opportunity for all.

He said that the government's goal of "opportunity for all" would only be delivered if the "eroded value" of "responsibility from all" was rediscovered.

At the conference, Mr Blair also attempted to fire the final shot in the "elitism war" which was ignited by Chancellor Gordon Brown over Oxford University.

"Let's hear no more rubbish about class war, as if we had to choose between caricatures of Little Lord Fauntleroy or Karl Marx," he urged.

Conservative leader William Hague dismissed the speech as evidence that the government was talking not delivering.

"Nothing he has said will stop us setting the agenda because he is not setting one of his own," Mr Hague said.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said Mr Blair's attempt to reassure Middle England and the Labour heartlands had failed.

New agenda

But ministers tried to reassert the government's agenda on Thursday with a new range of no-nonsense intiatives.

Alongside Stephen Byers "opportunity for all" war cry, Mr Straw unveiled plans for a national drugs treatment agency to tackle drug-related crime.

The agency will be charged with drawing lessons from the most successful anti-drug schemes to promote best practice in every area and set minimum standards.

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See also:

07 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Women give Blair hostile reception
08 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Wembley fiasco could be turning point
07 Jun 00 | UK
Straw wages war on drugs
07 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Blair speech 'backfires'
07 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Was Blair invited or not?
05 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Sawyer attack eclipses health summit
30 May 00 | UK Politics
Labour calls for end to 'elitism'
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