Blair urges unity despite Iraq agony to win third term
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday called for the unity of the ruling Labor Party in preparation for next year's general election, while admitting evidence about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction was wrong.
After outlining his ten priorities for a third term in office in his keynote speech at the ongoing Labor conference in Brighton, southern England, Blair said he could not apologize for having been involved in the effort to remove Saddam.
"The problem is I can apologize for the intelligence being wrong but I can never apologize, sincerely at least, for removing Saddam," he told the Labor local delegates.
"I do not minimize whatever differences some of you have with me over Iraq," Blair said, "Whatever disagreements we have had, weshould unite in our determination to stand by the Iraqi people until the job is done."
Blair was interrupted briefly twice by anti-war and anti-hunting protesters during his speech. They were quickly bundled out of the hall.
Much of the prime minister's speech was concentrated on his "mission" to create a Britain "for the many, and not the few." He also stressed that the election could only be won with a radical agenda, not solely by resting on past achievements.
Blair hailed what he said were Labor's achievements in government such as a stable economy, low unemployment and investment in public services, saying that to address inequalitieswas "Labor's third term mission."
"There is a glass ceiling on opportunity in this country. We have raised that ceiling - we haven't broken it," said the prime minister.
"If you have professional parents you are five times more likely to go to university, if you live in a smart part of town you are half as likely to be the victim of crime," he noted.
Local analysts said Blair's plea for unity comes amid a fresh outbreak in the row between Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and Labor election campaign's supremo Alan Milburn.
In a conference speech Monday, Milburn, in what was widely seenas a direct attack on the chancellor, said the party needed to mapout a radical new agenda rather than simply "shouting louder and louder" about its past record.
Brown's speech earlier Monday was "most precisely" about the record, "but you can't just win elections on that," said Milburn.
However, British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott denied there was a "polarization" between Brown and Milburn's ideas on how to fight the election.