Blair: "I've got the message"

12-09-2006

Prime minister Tony Blair has delivered his last ever speech to the Trades Union Congress (TUC ) in a typically stormy conference hall in Brighton.

He was forced to endure protracted heckling from conference attendees and, at the beginning of his speech, a staged walkout by members of the Rail and Maritime Union (RMT).

"You can disagree but just listen to the argument for just once," he told hecklers. "It's a democratic argument, you can ask your questions afterwards but for once just listen to the argument".

After delivering his speech on the terrorist threat and other security issues he received a series of grilling questions from the floor, which called the prime minister to account over what many perceived to be the privatisation of public services.

It was only after the question-and-answer session ended that Mr Blair let his guard down and told a hushed conference hall his personal view of the frosty receptions he had received from the TUC in the last decade.

"I've always… had a great respect for the work the trade unions have done. The fact that we do not agree all the time… is no bad thing. The trouble with doing my job is you take difficult decisions and you realize that you can't please all the people all of the time," Mr Blair said.

"When I look back I do realize there are certain things that have changed in this country for good," he said, before listing New Labour's achievements on the minimum wage, employment levels, help for pensioners and increased investment in public services.

"For the first time we live in a country where people can be proud whatever their background and whatever their class," he said.

"I'm not saying everything's been great, because it hasn't. But what does happen is progress if we have the courage and determination to remain in government.

"I want to see a Labour party continue in government. And it will only ever continue in government if it focuses on policy for the future and accepts that government is a hard, difficult business, but that it is a darn sight better than wasting our time in opposition passing resolutions that we can never do anything about."

Mr Blair received applause from the TUC long enough for him to make a quick exit, leaving commentators observing that his emotional farewell had been delivered more passionately than it had been received.


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