“You’re the future now. So make the most of it.”

26 September, 2006 – Tony Blair’s Last Leader’s Speech to ConferenceTony Blair- Manchester Conference 2006

Mad! MAD?

Labour must be absolutely stark raving bonkers!

What a speech! Surely the party delegates in Manchester listening to the PM finally realised what they were about to do?

To a man and woman the political pundits are agreed that the Prime Minister’s speech was peerless. Well constructed, hitting the right note for the occasion, graceful, articulate and …. well, you know the rest. We’ve known for years what oratorial powers Tony Blair has, and if we pause for a second and take the Iraq bindfolds off, we can recall his political convictions and ambitions for change which inspired his party and country so. Yesterday he reminded us.

In case you missed it, and where have you BEEN, here’s my take on the speech.

“THANK YOU”
He started by thanking his party for giving him the “extraordinary privilege” of leading them these past twelve years. Then he thanked his Deputy, his family and his agent. Above all else, he said, he thanked the British people. He even thanked the NHS staff, teachers and the city of Manchester. It might seem like a surfeit of gratefuleness. But I tell you something – it worked!

Then there was a reminder of the state of the country in 1994 when he became party leader and 1997 when he became Prime Minister. The country has changed since then, he said, but it hasn’t changed by accident.

BACK TO REAL VALUES
“We defied conventional political wisdom and so changed it. Around that we built a new political coalition”, he said. New Labour had also freed Britain from “the reactionary choice between individual prosperity and a caring society.” They had moved away from the traditional base of the party to become inclusive, said the PM, “Our core vote is the country”.

He compared the beliefs and policies of 1906 with those of 2006; the beliefs of a century ago should be recognizable today, the policies shouldn’t.

POLITICS IS ABOUT THE NEXT CHALLENGE
And he was obviously facing his own personal challenge as he admitted in a slightly wavering voice, “it’s hard to let go”. But he said he would take through the changes he has been working on, work to heal the party and towards “the only legacy that has ever mattered” to him – a fourth general election victory.

“A REMARKABLE MAN”
Then the PM praised the Chancellor fulsomely as joint-architect of New Labour, without whom their three election victories would not have been possible.

CHANGING CHANGES
He said that today’s challenges are essentially global and not domestic. Insecurity from terrorism, energy concerns, environmental issues, immigration, emerging markets in China and India. British people are “reluctant global citizens”, he nudged gently to our island race. Pointing out that 2007’s challenges are different from those of 1997, Mr Blair showed a clear understanding that priorities change as do the policies needed to reflect those changing priorities.

Global forces such as the internet alter people’s expectations and demands. Parents and patients must come first, he said.

SECURITY AND IMMIGRATION
Recognizing that the present system for immigration control and security are no longer suitable for our time, he reminded conference of his government’s case for ID cards, and said it was a balance between security and liberty which he thought had to be secured.

TERRORISM
Defending his policy against terrorism Mr Blair said that some were falling for the propaganda of the enemy. The propaganda that said we were the ones responsible for terrorism. “We are not responsible for terrorism”, he stated. If we retreat from Iraq and Afghanistan “it would be a craven act of surrender”.

He promised to work for peace between Israel and Palestine, as he had in Northern Ireland, in his remaining time in office.

He referred to the troubles in Sudan, the dificulties in being America’s strongest ally, and the British being semi-detached Europeans .

COURAGE NOT CAUTION
Telling the party that retreating to the sidelines is not an option, he said that the British people won’t forgive indecision.

NO RULES IN POLITICS
He urged the party to “get after” the Tories, saying there is no rule that the Tories have got to come back. There are no rules in politics; “you make your own rules.”

Interesting thought.

“I LOVE THIS PARTY”
“… and its traditions”, he said. There’s only one tradition he hated – losing.

TAKE OR LEAVE MY ADVICE
He wound up with a pithy few words, his voice breaking – “Wherever I am, whatever I do, I’m with you.”

Or should that have been “I will be right there waiting for you” as in the song? Tonight the song lyrics and their promise of possible return are sinking into the subconscious of the confused delegates, who thought they knew where they were going until Mr Blair spoke today.

He left them with this thought – “You’re the future now, so make the most of it.”

John Reid, the Home Secretary’s expression and raised eyebrows said it all. Tony had made a BIG mistake in announcing he would be leaving before the next general election.

Being forced out by his own party and not the Conservatives must be a bitter pill to swallow, but Mr Blair dealt with his recalcitrant party in an exemplary fashion. Talk about going out on a high! Though strangely, some of them don’t seem quite so sure now if going out is the right choice.

Click here to see part of Tony Blair’s speech. (3 mins 40 secs)

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