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Tony Blair: a conference speech

Look, I'm listening.

And listen: I'm looking.

Listening. Looking. Every day I'm listening. And every day I'm looking.

Because I owe it to you. I owe it to the British people.

I am listening to pensioners. Pensioners tell me, look we like what you're doing. We like the way you're listening.

And let. Me say this. I'm also listening to our lorry drivers. And you know what? British lorry drivers are the best in the world. The skill and dedication. They put into driving their lorries. Is second. To none.

In fact, to me they're not just lorry drivers. They're much, much more than that. To me, they're road hauliers.

And we thank them for that.

I am listening. I am hearing. And I will act. Today, I make this solemn pledge. This year, the Government will set bold new targets for listening

We pledge 32 per cent more listening per year over and above the rate of inflation.

And an immediate 28 per cent to go straight into a network of new Listen-and-Hear Network Initiative Centres the length and breadth of this country.

A lot more listening. A lot more hearing. In five years' time, our mission for Britain is to have more listeners and hearers than any other country in the worid.

But for many families life's still. A struggle. It's tough, balancing work. And family. There's the mortgage to pay. The holiday to save for. The odd pint. And— can you believe it— the bulb in the downstairs toilet's gone again.

Inflation may be lower but the kids' trainers don't get any cheaper. The stair carpet needs a good going-over. There's ketchup and old cabbage strewn all over the kitchen floor. And the dog's raided that bin again.

You—all of you, every single one—have responded magnificently to being listened to. You're quite simply the best. The best teachers. The best doctors and nurses. The best road hauliers. World-class film directors and actors. The best scientists and inventors. The best people any nation could wish for.

Hi! How are you? Hey, you're looking great.

Smashing to have you with us.

We should be proud. Not self-satisfied. Never that. Never self-satisfied. Just very very satisfied. With ourselves.

The Dome. There. I've said it. And—believe me—that took some guts. You can't win them all. There are those on the far right who try to put it about that you can win them all. But, you know, I recently received a letter from an elderly woman living in sheltered housing on the outskirts of Bradford.

And she told me this: you can't win them all.

So to the euro. At issue—bless you—at issue is not whether we join. At issue—bless you again—is this. Do we rule out joining? Of course, there'll always be those who want to rule out ruling out joining. To them I say this. Let's not rule out ruling it out. Though nor is it something I'd rule out.

You know why? That's not standing up for Britain. That's not strong.

You know what I call strong? This is what I call strong. I say to Milosevic. You lost. Go. The world has suffered enough. And the same applies to you, Mao Tse-Tung and Joseph Stalin. Don't tell me you were once great figures on the world stage. You're not any more. It's time to stand up to you. Your time has passed. Go.

But, you know, speaking totally off the cuff for a moment, I want to tell you something from the bottom. End page 10.

Start page 11. Of my heart. Pause. There are certain things J cannot do. If you ask me to put tax cuts before education spending, I'm sorry. I can't do it. If you want me to send our economy into a downward spiral, throwing literally millions into poverty, I'm sorry I simply can't do it. Pause.

And if you want me to go outside this Conference Hail and poke fun at the elderly and the infirm, I'm sorry, but that's not the kind of guy I am.

There are those in the Conservative Party who say we should do away with pet cats. Abolish garden implements. Crack down on Zimmer frames. And bring in draconian anti-knitting laws.

To them I say: no. That's not our kind of country. That's not our vision of Britain. The British are a nation of animal lovers. We love to potter about in our gardens. Some of us are forced—through no fault of our own—to rely on our Zimmer frames.

And, for pity's sake, where's the harm in a little knitting?

If we want to reach our journey's end, there are choices we have to make.

Tough choices.

Hard choices.

Choices that are tough and hard. In the road ahead there are many forks. Some urge me to take every fork. But then where would we end up? Right back at the beginning. No: you do not reach the journey's end by taking the road that gets you there.

But we still have a long way to go.

And that is an achievement we can be proud of.

Craig Brown

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