View from the Congress floor – Blair gets a roasting

I’m not sure whether it really came over on TV or not, but Blair got an unbelievably hard time at the TUC.

It started off with his introduction from the TUC President, Gloria Mills, who said, “You’re welcome to TUC Congress,” which brought shouts of “no you’re not” from the audience.

It’s been well publicised that the RMT delegation walked out after displaying anti-war, anti-Blair posters. There were other delegations also displaying posters who did not leave, such as the FBU and another smallish delegation that I didn’t’ recognise. A couple of people who seemed to be sitting in the Amicus delegation also held up posters.

Throughout the speech, Blair was heckled, for example his comment that he “opposed all forms of terrorism around the world” was met with a shout of “expect for Israel”. He also came out with the inexplicable line that he couldn’t support peace in Israel/Palestine “if it threatened Israel’s security”. Some people asked how any kind of peace threatens Israel’s security.

Most notable, I thought, were two things. Firstly how little applause he got. Certainly he got a polite clap for old faithful clap-traps like “we can’t have another 18 years of Tory Government”. But, he was even unable to get a clap for sticking up for migrant workers in a way that, to be honest, really deserved praise.

The other very interesting thing was the questions. All but one of the questions in the Q&A were basically hostile to Blair. Even Community, surely one of the most pro-Labour leadership unions, asked a tough question on pensions. There is always an exception, and that was provided by good ol’ USDAW, who asked something akin to would you like to tell us what your government has been doing for trade unions?

The speech ended with a standing ovation of… four people, one of whom was Jonathan Baume.

And perhaps that’s the most significant thing. It’s really not very long since Blair would have commanded the whole thing. He was tolerated by the more pro-government unions and jeered by those more hostile. This really does illustrate how far his authority as a leader of the Labour movement has plunged.

4 Responses to View from the Congress floor – Blair gets a roasting

  1. Cassilis says:

    Was Blair ever really a ‘leader of the Labour movement’?

    His authority as PM was never grounded in union support nor indeed support from the left flank of his party. It was his ability to pull in the floating, middle-class vote that gave him his power inside the movement, not any ideological affinity surely?

  2. Dave says:

    That really wasn’t how it came over on the Telly …

    I saw a PM really telling it like it is to an audience that didn’t like it, but couldn’t help nodding along.

    Obviously i’m brainwashd new Lab scum who doesn’t deserve to breathe the same oxygen as Tim Ireland, but …

  3. Dave – different members of The Daily’s news team saw this on TV and in the conference hall and I think from our discussions it does seem that it really came over very differently on screen to how it was in the room.

    Cassilis – he may not have grounded his authority in the union movement, but he used to get at least grudging respect from them, even when there was dislike. Now it’s more like grudging tolerance – at best.

  4. I imagine it was softened for TV. As a GMB member I was disappointed with the reaction he got. He’s said he’s going so what is to be gained from this continual parade of discontent. It’s more hurtful to the party as whole. Although I wasn’t in Brighton to see it, I suspect Simon Hoggart got it pretty much spot on when he said of the demonstraters in today’s Guardian, “This lot couldn’t organise a tea party in the Typhoo factory… Then they ambled out, looking as passionate and angry as a group of football fans who’ve decided to get to the gents before the half-time rush.”

    I’m no fan of Blair but it’s time to concentrate on other things.

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