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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 14:34 GMT
Blair predicts bumpy ride for reforms
Prime Minister Tony Blair at manifesto launch
Blair pointed towards two more terms
Nick Assinder

Tony Blair launched Labour's election manifesto with a powerful plea to voters to give him two more terms to transform Britain.

In a relatively low key performance, he said continued economic stability would allow him to pile more investment into public services.

But he also insisted there would also have to be significant reform involving the wide scale participation of the private sector in areas like health and education.

And he predicted that would spark controversy, probably including from within his own party and the unions.

There were no major new announcements in the document and Mr Blair laid the emphasis firmly on his bigger vision for the country rather than springing policy surprises.

Labours 2001 election manifesto
Ambitious manifesto
He eagerly cast Old Labour into history and said he wanted to create a society where everyone had the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

He confessed that much of what is in the document would take two terms to complete but insisted he was concentrating on the election in front of him.

Blair's journey

The launch was unlike previous Labour manifesto rallies in a number of significant ways.

It was held outside London for the first time in an attempt to portray Labour as a truly one nation party.

There were no great tub-thumping, ear-splitting speeches designed to whip up the troops into a pre-poll frenzy of anticipation.

Instead there was Mr Blair offering a quiet, detailed and wide ranging explanation of the journey he believes he is embarked upon to change the fundamentals of society.

Members of the cabinet Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett and Gordon Brown
Cabinet shared platform
And, almost inevitably with New Labour, there was a touch of soft-focus as he was welcomed to the platform by the next chair of the party's student wing, Vickie Foxtrot.

Members of the student wing also sat alongside the cabinet on the stage.

But it was the so-called radical nature of the manifesto which is likely to attract the greatest approval or criticism.

The private sector is clearly going to be given a much bigger role in public services - one of the things Mr Blair claimed marked out Old Labour from the improved version.

Encourage selection

A report in the Guardian newspaper claimed that there were plans to bring private contractors into areas of the public services never before envisaged.

It said the private sector could run health authorities and primary care groups and help run GP services.

Voluntary and private management of state schools could be extended and governors could be given the power to buy in privately run management teams including head teachers, deputies and heads of department.

And there was nothing in Mr Blair's comments or tone to suggest the report was hugely wide of the mark.

That will infuriate hard-liners who will see it is a form of creeping privatisation of essential services.

Scool pupil in art class
Schools will get private input
Equally controversial are the proposals - already known but given great emphasis by Mr Blair - that there will be more specialist schools to meet children's differing aptitudes.

This could be seen by some as a return to secondary modern-style education and the encouragement of selection.

Once again, however, this was all seen by the prime minister as part of the New Labour agenda.

In many ways his attitude was summed up when he was asked by Hilary Wainwright, the editor of left-wing magazine Red Pepper, whether he would re-nationalise the railway system.

"The answer is no. We quite emphatically depart from the way we have seen these things in the past," he told her.

And he said New Labour looked ahead "to a modern world where barriers between public and private are breaking down."

Big challenge

There was little emphasis on the European single currency in the document - an issue which has the potential to cause trouble for both the major political parties.

When pressed the prime minister repeated the formula that he was in favour in principle, but the five economic tests had to be met before he would ask voters to decide whether to join.

But, in mapping out the sequence of events needed to get to that point, he suggested it was many years away.

That was seen by some as a clear indication that he wants to play the whole issue down until after the next election.

Policies on fox hunting and a possible change to the voting system for Westminster were also relegated to the detail of the manifesto suggesting they would hardly feature in the next Labour government's programme.

Mr Blair clearly hopes that by offering an "unremittingly New Labour" manifesto with a sound economy, no income tax rises and improved public services, he will appeal to voters across the spectrum.

The big challenge, however, will be to enthuse those who have become disillusioned by Labour's first term and who are now, essentially, being offered more of the same.

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