1999 – Blair’s Leader’s Speech to Conference
Comment at end
Friday, 1 October, 1999
The Red Flag ends Labour rally
By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder
Well, they sang the Red Flag at the end of the Labour party conference – but never before has it had such little relevance to the people’s party.
Just four days earlier Tony Blair had declared the class war was over and, later, urged disaffected Tories to join the New Labour project.
While many of the delegates at the conference still bellowed out the old socialist anthem with pride and vigour, many ministers looked distinctly unenthusiastic.
Mr Blair even appeared to be having problems remembering the words.
And, bearing in mind the party’s new logo, many may have been far happier singing The Sun Has Got Its Hat On.
If this conference had one over riding aim it was to finally cast off any lingering remnants of the Old Labour past – now apparently redefined by Tony Blair as conservatism – and set out a new radical agenda for party members.
The prime minister and Gordon Brown both made powerful speeches which genuinely offered members a new philosophy.
And they returned to London happy that the event had been an overwhelming success.
There were a couple of minor setbacks on the air traffic control and post office sell offs. And there were growing signs that Mr Blair’s pledge to ban fox hunting before the next election was slowly being abandoned.
Transport Secretary “Two Jags” John Prescott managed to cause a storm by using two motors to ferry him the 250 yards between his hotel and the conference centre.
And there was confusion over whether or not party members had booed teenage musicians at an event at the conference because they went to a private school.
But for the most part, there were no signs of the clashes between delegates and leaders which used to characterise Labour conferences.
The event was more stage managed than ever before and was run more like a business managers’ conference than a political rally – but that was undoubtedly the aim of the exercise.
The party’s eyes were clearly being focused on the next election, and the one after that, with the prime minister urging them to ensure the 21st century was not dominated by conservative forces. And it was a deeply serious affair.
There was no end-of-conference turn by John Prescott who has previously managed to bring the last day alive with a hilarious stand-up routine.
Apart from a bizarre appearance by Tom Sawyer dressed up as founder Keir Hardie showing video clips of Labour’s historic successes, the final day was as serious as the rest of the week, with routine closing speeches by Jack Cunningham and Chris Smith.
But, even though the conference was an undoubted success for the leadership, when it was all over, many wondered exactly what the precise policies would be to end poverty, create full employment and champion equality.
That is something Mr Blair will have to work on between now and the next general election.