Final Blair speech aims to convince

Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister, is to mark his farewell speech to the Labour party annual conference on Tuesday with a focus on policy.

    Pressure from within Labour has dogged the British prime minister

    Blair will make the speech in an attempt to allay criticism over his backing for the US-led war on Iraq, his policies in the Middle East and his pro-market reforms of public services.

    Thousands of people protested against his policies in Manchester on Saturday.

    "What I want to do this week is say to the party: 'We have had a difficult time recently. Go back, focus on the public, the public's concerns and things that really worry people'," Blair told the BBC's Sunday AM programme.

    Blair has faced increasing pressure to stand down, or else face a revolt within his own party. Labour officials are anxious that Blair is not verbally attacked at the conference by party members.

    Period of silence

    Jeremy Beecham, a senior Labour official, speaking to the conference, said: "A period of silence from you would be welcome." 

    Several delegates complained that conference organisers had rejected their requests for a leadership debate. One delegate also said he was being "gagged" over the controversial question of whether the UK should replace the Trident nuclear weapons system.

    "New Labour will never retreat but positively entrench our position in the centre ground"

    Gordon Brown,
    British Finance Minister

    Speculation continues on who will succeed Blair when he stands down as prime minister.

    Gordon Brown, Britain's finance minister, is the leading candidate for the post and is due to speak on Monday.

    It is thought that Brown will make it clear in his speech that he will keep Labour a reformist, centrist party in the Blair mould.
    "New Labour will never retreat but positively entrench our position in the centre ground - in the mainstream as the party of reform," Brown will say, according to excerpts of his speech released in advance.

    Slipping popularity

    Brown's speech will also aim to shore up public support for his leadership attempt, which has slipped of late.

    A Daily Telegraph poll on Monday found that just 27 per cent of people surveyed felt Brown would be a good replacement for Blair, compared with 36 per cent earlier in the year.

    The proportion of those who thought he would fail in the job rose to 44 per cent from 33 per cent.

    A second poll in the Financial Times said voter apathy was another problem for Brown. More than one in two of those surveyed - and 46 per cent of Labour voters - answered with "don't know" when asked who should fill Blair's shoes.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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