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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rightist Praise, Leftist Ire Greets Blair Centrist Move

BLACKPOOL, England -- British Labour leader Tony Blair basked in acclaim Wednesday for his vote-winning bid to dump a symbolic commitment to widescale nationalization.

Left-wingers at Labour's annual conference reacted furiously to Blair's plan to rewrite its 76-year-old constitution by removing the totemic Clause 4, saying he was ripping the heart out of the party.

But most delegates, yearning for Labour to govern after 15 years in opposition, appeared to accept Blair's argument that the party had to change and move towards the center ground of British politics to win the trust of skeptical voters.

It was a message he hammered home in a BBC radio interview on Wednesday.

"We are not actually changing the heart of the Labour Party. What we are trying to do is to make sure the values and principles of the party are relevant for today's world.

"There's a country out there that is wanting a different type of politics. They want to know they can trust the Labour Party," he said. Labour leads the ruling Conservatives by more than 20 percent in opinion polls.

Even newspapers normally loyal to the ruling Conservatives gave Blair rave reviews for his speech on Tuesday, which they said would increase pressure on unpopular Prime Minister John Major at his own annual conference next week in Bournemouth.

"Mr. Major has a lot to beat. However painful it may be to the Tory Party to admit it, Mr. Blair broke the mould and looked and sounded like a potential prime minister of a late 20th century Western democracy," the right-wing Daily Telegraph said.

The Daily Mail said Blair had more than met the expectations that preceded his conference debut as party leader with a speech of passion and acumen.

"Although it is far too early to say whether he has what it takes to lead his country, already he looks like the man to liberate Labour from its past," the paper said.

The expression of that socialist past is Clause 4 of Labour's constitution, which commits it to "the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange".

The clause gives lethal ammunition to the Conservatives when they argue Labour is still wedded to state control of the economy.

Disputes over whether to abolish the clause have periodically divided the party -- a risk Blair is ready to run once more in the quest to anchor Labour in the mainstream of British politics, where he believes the next election will be won.

The Socialist Campaign group, which wants an emergency debate on the issue, said Clause 4 stood for Labour's commitment to fundamental change in society.