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'I'm back' after Iraq, says Blair
|September 13, 2004
| Tony Blair has told TUC delegates in Brighton it is time to show his focus is back on issues at home after months dominated by the Iraq war.
The prime minister admitted it had seemed to many people he had neglected the issues affecting their daily lives.
He said: "Even if I've never been away, it's time to show I'm back."
Mr Blair promised to keep to the deal he made with unions this summer but said there could be no return to 1970s industrial practices.
And he signalled he would not back away from the government's sometimes controversial plans for modernising public services.
'No going back'
His speech, which won only polite applause from the gathered delegates, came a day after unions warned of strike action over job cuts and the pensions crisis.
Mr Blair stressed the need for unions to adapt to change and said the closed shop and flying pickets should be left behind.
He told union delegates: "Leave the past to the past... We won't go back to the agenda of the past. But there is much for us to do on the new agenda and do it together."
The daily lives of our citizens in Britain are not about foreign affairs
Reserved reaction for Blair
He spent much of his speech explaining the 56 pledges made to unions at Labour's national policy forum in Warwick.
The deal did not shirk economic change, he said, but it combined it with an important principle.
"Good jobs do not come with bad work practices," he said.
Mr Blair said there was no easy solution to the pensions problems but the state pension and guarantees for the poorest pensioners would always be part of Labour's approach.
He also announced there could be new financial support for people aged between 19 and 30 on A-level or equivalent courses.
He urged trade unions to work with ministers.
"Make a reality of the social partnership with sensible forward looking employers who share the belief that efficiency and fairness go hand in hand," he said.
The prime minister was about to speak at the TUC conference in 2001 when the 11 September US terror attacks took place.
Mr Barber has highlighted union concerns over pensions
Three years on, Mr Blair said he did not apologise for spending time on the war on terrorism.
"But vital though that war is, the daily lives of our citizens in Britain are not about foreign affairs," he said.
"It is interest rates, the workplace, taxes and bills, schools and hospitals and crime."
Mr Blair said his attention had not wavered from that challenge despite attention on world affairs, but that had not always been realised by the public.
Earlier, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber used his speech to say Labour's second term had seen its share of disappointments, including the Iraq war.
And he said the term "love-hate relationship" could have been invented to describe the party's relations with the unions.
But he stressed the importance of the Warwick agreement.
"I think that the programme put together in Warwick has made us more at ease with each other than for some time," Mr Barber told delegates.
"Best of all, it has given us a new sense of common purpose and a confidence that we can make sure of progress towards our goals."
Earlier CBI director general Digby Jones said trade unions for were "increasingly irrelevant", particularly when they still called for secondary picketing.
That prompted TUC president Roger Lyons to say: "It is not us who are out of touch with the aspirations of the British people or stuck in a time warp.
"The reality is that too many employers are behind the times, out of touch and putting exploitation of the flexible, under-regulated labour market before investment in skills."
Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson said the speech showed the government was listening.
"Quite frankly we think that can be converted into an understanding that they deserve the support at the next election for a third term," he told BBC News Online.
But Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said he was "disappointed and angry" there had been no mention of plans to cut 100,000 civil service jobs.
His union is preparing to ballot on holding a national walk-out over the plans.
GMB leader Kevin Curran meanwhile complained Mr Blair's speech had lacked "dynamism" or a commitment to tackle the pensions crisis.
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