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Last Updated: Friday, 28 November, 2003, 16:38 GMT
Tony keeps on talking
By James Campbell
BBC Wales News Online

Tony Blair
Deep in the "Big Conversation - Tony Blair and Labour Party members
Tony Blair launched the "Big Conversation" in Wales on Friday.

And he was having none of it when Labour Party officials and a Cabinet minister tried to tear him away from talking to grass roots Labour Party members.

The "Big Conversation" is claimed by the party to be the biggest consultation exercise ever in the UK, with an interactive website aimed at giving people from all walks of life a chance to air their views on policies.

Along with Chancellor Gordon Brown, the launch took place at the Celtic Manor Resort, poised high above the M4 and overlooking Newport.

But an hour before that Mr Blair was sitting down in the more humble surroundings of Ringland Labour Club, in easy eyesight of the elegant Celtic Manor, but squatting amidst a sprawling 1960s council estate.

This was grass roots rather than spin doctor politics as Mr Blair moved between tables, talking to party members and listening to their concerns over crime, drug taking, education, health and a host of hot topics.

Specs balanced on nose and pen in hand, the prime minister took copious notes as his ear was bent.

But it was a flea in the ear that he delivered to Leader of the Commons and Welsh Secretary Peter Hain as the tanned Neath MP sidled up to the PM and tried to persuade him it was time to go.

Mr Blair was having none of it and a couple of muttered but sharp words sent Mr Hain back to his corner.

Tony Blair, Alan Howarth and Peter Hain
Peter Hain and Alan Howarth greet the PM at Ringlands Labour Club

Indeed, this had been the third attempt by Labour officials to move the Prime Minister on to his next venue at Celtic Manor; all had been rebuffed by Mr Blair who was in fast lane listening mode.

Note after note was made as members made their feelings known and Mr Blair reciprocated.

In the forward to the policy document "A future fair for us all" which the Labour Party issued to mark the launch of the Big Conversation, Mr Blair lays out his stall.

He refers to "having the courage to recast the welfare state, which was right for the time".

He talks about "the challenge for public services in a consumer-driven age."

He pounds the table on "tackling global threats rather than hiding from them."

And he concludes by saying: "It's time for a grown up discussion. Big issues need real debate, a big conversation between politicians and people."

Mr Blair was well behind schedule when he was eventually dragged away from his dialogue with fellow party members.

In fact, the "Big Conversation" was really launched in run-down Ringland rather than up-market Celtic Manor.




SEE ALSO:
Students: 'listen and scrap fees'
28 Nov 03  |  Education
Blair launches 'Big Conversation'
28 Nov 03  |  Politics
Blair to start 'Big Conversation'
28 Nov 03  |  Politics


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