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Blair defiant over Iraq invasion


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Blair defiant over Iraq invasion

Tony Blair has acknowledged evidence about Saddam Hussein having actual weapons of mass destruction was wrong, during his keynote conference speech.

But the prime minister told Labour delegates in Brighton he could not apologise for having been involved in the effort to remove Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair was interrupted briefly twice by anti-war and pro-hunting protests.

Much of his speech concentrated on his "mission" to create a Britain "for the many, and not the few".

Mr Blair, who arrived to chants of "four more years", was heckled first by a lone anti-war protester during his speech.

As the man was removed from the conference hall Mr Blair said: "That's fine sir you can make your protest - just thank God we live in a democracy."

A second larger protest by pro-hunt demonstrators took place some 15 minutes into Mr Blair's speech and several people were bundled from the room by stewards.

Later police arrested three people for disorderly conduct. All three were said to be party members.

Outside, thousands of pro-hunters protested against a hunting ban. Police have been working to prevent any repeat of clashes seen at a pro-hunting demonstration earlier this month in Parliament Square - a protest which also saw five men storm into the House of Commons chamber.

Voted for change

Mr Blair began his speech by expressing his "support and solidarity" for British hostage Ken Bigley and his family and sent his condolences to the families of the latest two British casualties in Iraq

Later, after outlining his ten priorities for a third term Labour government, Mr Blair said he wanted to tackle the issue of Iraq "head on".

He said: "The problem is I can apologise for the information being wrong but I can never apologise, sincerely at least, for removing Saddam. The world is a better place with Saddam in prison."

He acknowledged that problems of trust stemmed from decisions taken since 11 September, 2001.

And he pledged he would make reviving the Middle East peace process a personal priority once US elections had happened in November.

Mr Blair also referred to a new war on global terrorism that is ongoing in Iraq.

But most of the speech, which received a standing ovation, was devoted to domestic issues, with the prime minister hailing what he said were Labour's achievements such as creating a stable economy, low unemployment and investment in public services.

The improvements had come about because the British had voted for change.

And he paid tribute to Gordon Brown as a "friend for 20 years" and the best chancellor Britain has ever had.

But Mr Blair went on to highlight inequalities that he said still existed in 21st Century Britain arguing that addressing these was "Labour's third term mission".

"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 said.

"There is a glass ceiling on opportunity in this country. We have raised that ceiling - we haven't broken it."

Mr Blair also urged his party to be united adding that "with the courage of our convictions we can win the third term".

"It is worth the fight - now let's get out and do it."

The plea for unity comes amid a fresh outbreak in the apparent differences between Mr Brown and elections supremo Alan Milburn.

In a conference speech on Monday Mr Milburn, in what was widely seen as a direct attack on the chancellor, said the party needed to map out a radical new agenda rather than simply "shouting louder and louder" about its past record.

'Circular arguments'

That came shortly after Mr Brown, elections supremo in 1997 and 2001, had addressed the conference spelling out Labour's achievements and his vision of building on those traditional Labour values in a third term.

The Lib Dems called on the prime minister to apologise to the families of the two soldiers killed in Iraq.

And party president Simon Hughes said: "Nobody in the free world wanted Saddam Hussein to continue there wasn't any disagreement about that - everybody wanted him out of the way.

"The problem was how to justify regime change in international law."

Let down?

Tory co-chairman Liam Fox said the prime minister was "all talk" and was "out of touch".

The real reason voters no longer trusted him was because of broken promises over tax rises, tuition fees and over violent crime.

"Tony Blair is saying to us, 'trust me and having not delivered in the first two terms I will deliver in the third term', but the only thing the British people can be certain of in a third term is tax rises," he said.

"Mr Blair has let people down very badly and he has lost the trust of the British people.

"The bottom line is Labour has had seven years in office and they haven't delivered," he added.


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Terror fight 'key to third term'

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Blunkett said Blair/Brown allies must stop feuding

Labour can forget about a third term in government if it gets its anti-terror measures wrong, David Blunkett has told the party's conference in Brighton.

Saying preventing terror was more important than "picking up the pieces" afterwards, the home secretary pledged a cash boost for Special Branch.

Mr Blunkett signalled crime would be a key plank of Labour's election battle.

He is to speed up recruitment of an extra 20,000 community support officers to help fight nuisance behaviour.

Amid tight security around the conference venue, Mr Blunkett railed against people who argued there was not a new threat, despite the Madrid train bombings and the Beslan school siege.

He warned: "If we did not do what we are doing and we did not do this right we could say goodbye to a third term in government because we would never be forgiven... if we did not make sure that no one threatens our lives in this country."

Mr Blunkett said it was not decontamination suits which saved lives but the counter-terrorism forces which had protected Britain so far.

He pledged an extra £90m for counter terrorism, which by 2008 would take the budget to twice the levels seen before the US terror attacks.

The money will mostly be spent on more Special Branch officers to match the current drive to double the size of security service MI5.

Mr Blunkett embraced his image as a tough Home Secretary, despite some criticism from parts of the Labour Party for being too illiberal.

He said: "I would rather be a tough home secretary in a compassionate Labour government than a compassionate opponent of a right-wing hardline Michael Howard Tory government."

'Record police numbers'

Mr Blunkett said there were a record 139,728 police officers by the end of August in England and Wales, up 10,000 on two years ago.

But he is particularly pushing the CSOs, who do not have powers of arrest but can detain people for up to half an hour.

There are currently just under 4,000 CSOs but Mr Blunkett is promising to use new money start recruiting more next month rather than next year in every area of England and Wales so there are 20,000 of them by 2008.

Police criticisms

Labour officials insist they are not "plastic policemen" and have been popular where they have been introduced, including with police.

But Police Federation chairman Jan Berry said she was disappointed so much money was being spent before the work of CSOs had been properly evaluated.

Research suggested there was confusion about the different powers police and CSOs had and there needed to be some clarification, she said.

Mr Blunkett also announced the programme of "weekend jails", where offenders are locked up for part of the week but otherwise stay at home.

The scheme has been trialled at two prisons and is now being rolled out so all courts in England and Wales can use it in 18 months time.

'Crack houses'

At the same time, Mr Blunkett promising an extra £320m for the prisons and probation budget to buy 1,300 new prison places and boost numbers of probation officers by 1,800 to a record 21,000.

He also repeated plans to name and shame youths who break, rather than just receive, anti-social behaviour orders.

And he underlined plans for new e-borders, where all those crossing British borders are electronically registered and hailed progress against unfounded asylum claims.

But shadow home secretary David Davis said the asylum system was a "shambles" and crime had gone up, not down.

"David Blunkett continues to talk tough on anti-social behaviour but it will take more than Home Office rhetoric and gimmicks to tackle the problem," he said, saying more police, not CSOs were needed.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Mark Oaten said: "People would much prefer it if Mr Blunkett spent more time developing tough and effective solutions rather than just talking tough.

"We need long-term solutions not just headline-chasing quick fixes."

UK Independence Party MEP John Whittaker said local communities needed police with full powers who were not tied up with red tape.

He accused Mr Blunkett of producing several schemes on asylum without getting to the problem's root.


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