Clinton Warns British Labour Not to Rest
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; 4:17 PM
MANCHESTER, England -- Former President Bill Clinton charmed Britain's Labour Party with effusive praise Wednesday, but warned delegates to remind voters of their accomplishments to avoid suffering a defeat like America's Democrats.
Clinton told the governing party's annual conference that, after nine years in power, the biggest danger Labour faced was that voters could take its achievements for granted. He urged delegates to remind Britain of the good works Prime Minister Tony Blair's government had done.
"You have produced prosperity and social progress for so long, it is easy for people to believe that it is just part of the landscape, that ... if you get a set of new faces in the driver's seat surely they wouldn't change what's working," he said.
Clinton said that had happened in the United States when President Bush took power in 2000.
"I have been there," he said, recalling that his administration had cut the United States' deficit drastically only to watch it balloon after Bush took office. "I say that to remind you that it can change quickly."
Delegates at the conference gave Clinton a celebrity's welcome. They love him far more than Bush, who is widely despised in the party. His 40-minute speech to a packed auditorium was frequently interrupted by applause.
With its most successful leader on his way out of office, Labour is at a potentially perilous crossroads. Damaging infighting has tarnished its image, and the opposition Conservative Party is surging after nearly a decade in the doldrums.
A fierce party rebellion forced Blair to announce Sept. 7 that he would quit within a year. He warned the party in his final conference speech Tuesday to stop its internal battles or risk being punished at the polls.
Some Labour backers worry that Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who is widely expected to succeed Blair but lacks his charm and polish, will be unable to beat back the charismatic, young Conservative leader David Cameron.
Clinton told Labour it should be proud of how it had changed Britain.
"Your prime minister, his government, your party, have been a stunning success," he said, praising Blair for creating jobs and leading the way internationally on fighting poverty and global warming. "None of this is an accident."
Delegate Christopher Wellbelove, a local council member in south London, said Clinton's reminder of the Democratic Party's defeat by Bush and the Republicans was chilling.