26 September 2000
I’m listening, insists Blair

By FWi staff

TONY Blair says he is listening to farmers anger over the hardship caused by fuel prices – but will not cut taxes at the expense of public services.

Addressing a packed party conference in Brighton, Mr Blair admitted he had “taken a knock” in the wake of the recent massive fuel price protests.

“I am listening to peoples anger over fuel duties,” he insisted.

“For hauliers and farmers, to say nothing of ordinary motorists, there is real hardship.

“But I also have to listen and have had to listen over under-funding in the National Health Service, over extra investment in schools, over more police on the beat, over public transport.

“Im listening over mortgages where low interest rates can only be maintained if discipline in public finance is kept,” he said.

“I will do whatever I can to bring people on-side, but there are certain things I cant do,” Mr Blair said.

“If you ask me to put tax cuts before education spending, I cant do it.”

He said that if Britain was to be a strong and prosperous Britain for all, there were choices or “decisions of destiny” to be made for the country.

But he believed when voters thought about the economy, jobs and public services, they would conclude the government was on the right track.

Mr Blair said he wanted to be the first prime minister in 40 years to say that Britain was back at full employment.

In a swipe at Tory leader William Hague, who has pledged a 3ppl cut in fuel tax if elected in the next election, Mr Blair added: “But it all depends on having that strength to make the choice, not by leaping aboard every passing bandwagon.”

Speaking to the Ananova website, Farmers for Action chairman David Handley accused the Prime Minister of “not listening”.

“We are all incredibly disappointed and angry. He has not listened and his arrogance has stood firm and fast.

“He could have toned it down and offered us a glimmer of hope, but he didnt.”

Earlier, anti-hunt protesters and pro-hunting Countryside Alliance supporters clashed outside the Brighton Centre, reports BBC Online.

Mounted police formed a line between the two groups and 50 police officers stood by as anti-hunt protesters were marched several hundred yards away.

Countryside Alliance president Baroness Mallalieu received huge applause from supporters when she responded to a scathing attack from John Prescott.

On Monday (25 September) the Deputy Prime Minister said the “contorted faces” of alliance supporters made him more determined to see foxhunting banned.

“Mr Prescott, your voice will have ceased long before the sound of the hunting horn is silenced in the hills and the valleys,” retorted Baroness Mallalieu.

“That remark was vile, insulting, arrogant and illiberal,” she said.

Baroness Mallalieu rubbished rumours that the Countryside Alliance organised the fuel crisis “because the farmers were too stupid to do it themselves”.