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Tony Blair’s arrival on stage at the Labour conference was preceded by the anthemic Sham 69 song “If the Kids are united”. This quasi-punk protest chant seemed at first glance a curious choice for a party conference. For all his guitar-strumming youth, the prime minister makes an unlikely punk rocker. He’s far too well spoken for one thing, even when he’s trying to drop his H’s. He’s too Jimmy Dorsey to be much of a Jimmy Pursey.
But as Mr Blair bestrode the stage all suddenly became clear. For this was not a prime minister talking to his party, but an aging father and head of the family business explaining to his children that one day he’ll be gone and they will have to get on in the world without him.
Listen to the lyrics of the song: “For once in my life I’ve got something to say. I want to say it now for now is today. If the kids are united, they will never be divided.” And who are the kids in question? Ah well they are the feckless, ungrateful massed ranks of the Labour party who eight years on and three election victories, still don’t get it. The members who still don’t see what he’s done for them and are stil moaning about how he spends all his time at the office - the Oval Office.
So here was Mr Blair dispensing his life wisdom to his wayward spawn because, as we all know, one day he’ll be gone and they will have to get on without him. “I know how it is. I was young once. I liked fast cars, fast women and the monopoly state provision of public services.”
“Gordon, one day you’ll be sitting in my chair. No, not today, (pause) no probably not tomorrow (pause). Look, I don’t know when, soon, just listen will you? Don’t make the mistakes that others in our family have made. Look will you stop scuffing your heels - these are diamonds I’m giving you.
“And all you other kids dotted around this hall. Listen, this is in your interests too. It wasn’t always like this. We didn’t always have these nice grace and favour houses, these armies of civil servants at our disposal, our finger on the nuclear trigger.
“When I grew up we had none of these things. You kids don’t know how lucky you are. When this business was being run by Jim Callaghan and Harold Wilson it nearly went under. It was hand to mouth, I tell you. I remember when your mad uncle Michael Foot was running the marketing division, he ran us into the ground. They ignored the customers and paid the price. We were down to a few small factories in the valleys.
“But I turned this business around. We rebranded and refocused. We learned to give the customers what they want. I’ve turned us into a grown up party and you need to stay grown-up. We have put aside childish things; the command economy, Noel Gallagher and wildcat strikes.
“Never forget the bottom line. You cannot close your eyes and wish away the competition. Look after your customers because if you don’t someone else will. If the customers want choice in public services, give it to them. If they want want you to give our young people places to go so they’re off the street - you send them to Basra”.
“So listen to my words kids. Don’t learn the hard way. The future lies in choice. There is no choice about this. You can have hard choices but there is no choice by choice. So choose wisely. Choose new Labour because it is the only choice.
“If you kids are united you will never be divided. Stay united, stay new Labour and stay in office.”