Blair urges media: “Don't dismiss Tories at election”

Bespectacled Blair: "Country would like to have a genuine debate

Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged the media to take the Conservatives seriously in the run-up to the General Election.

Speaking at the London Press Club’s annual lunch, Blair admitted that his plea to the media on behalf of the Opposition might appear strange.

But he claimed that in 1983, even though many observers had written off the chances of a Labour victory, the media did examine the party’s policies thoroughly. "People didn’t give us much chance but the press and broadcasters looked at our policies in every bit as great detail as they did in 1992 or 1997. That is as it should be," he said.

"Politicians should not take the election as read and neither should the media. When the campaign comes we will enter it without any sense of complacency. We shall fight it as a campaign of explanation and debate about the future of this country."

Blair claimed that at election time there was an opportunity for the parties to debate more fundamental issues than those raised in day-to-day politics. "You in the media can play your part facilitating such an in-depth argument and debate," he said. "The country certainly wants it. The country would like to have a genuine debate about the future."

Blair revealed he was tempted to give away the date of the election while being interviewed by a reporter from the daily paper in Colchester, the Evening Gazette. "Halfway through the interview she said, ‘please tell us the date of the election, it’s only the Colchester paper’." He admitted: "I was tempted and thought, why shouldn’t they know it?", but managed to keep his silence.

Despite his plea for an in-depth debate on policies, most coverage of the lunch concentrated on the fact that the Prime Minister gave his speech wearing reading glasses in public for the first time.

Winner of the London Press Club’s Scoop of the Year Trophy was Geoffrey Lean, environment editor of The Independent on Sunday, for his story on secret trials of genetically modified crops. He won the same category in this year’s British Press Awards.

The Edgar Wallace Trophy, for writing and reporting of the highest quality, was won by the Jerusalem correspondent of The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg.

Business journalist of the year was Jeff Randall for his editorship of Sunday Business before he joined the BBC as business editor.

Broadcaster of the year was BBC Radio 4 Today presenter Sue McGregor and winner of the new media award was Simon Goodley, of The Daily Telegraph, for his work on the paper’s dotcom supplement.

Don Hale, editor of the Matlock Mercury, won the Freedom Award for his successful campaign to free Stephen Downing from jail.

lThe London Press Club gave a special lifetime achievement award to Bill Deedes of The Daily Telegraph who is celebrating his 70th year as a journalist. Bob Edwards, presenting the award, said if there was a vote among journalists to choose the favourite member of their profession, Deedes would top the poll. Lord Deedes, 87, started in journalism as a cub reporter on the Morning Post in 1931. Accepting the award with typical modesty, he said of his career: "It seemed very short to me. Thank you for putting up with me so long."

by Jon Slattery

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