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Blair Handbagged
- Alarm bells ring for New labour as blue-rinse brigade heckle PM

TONY BLAIR suffered a rare PR disaster yesterday as hundreds of Women's Institute members heckled and slow-handclapped the Prime Minister during a speech at their annual conference at Wembley Arena.

The middle-aged, middle-Britain brigade were apparently furious with Blair for dragging politics into their event. "We said: Don't be political, because it will backfire on you.'" revealed WI national chairman (they don't hold truck with new fangled expressions like 'chair' and chairperson'.) Helen Carey.

Blair, whose speech included politics of only the mildest form, looked dazed as the blue rinses turned on him. "What would they not deem as political - reading out a phone book?" said the PM's press chief Alastair Campbell.

Tory leader William Hague seized on Blair's troubles in the House of Commons a short time after the ill-fated speech, saying the Prime Minister has lost touch with middle Britain, that sector of the electorate most cherished by politicians of all parties.

The whole Blair project has been to install New Labour as the natural home for middle-Britain, so commentators are viewing the WI meeting as a potentially key turning point in contemporary politics. With middle-Britain failing to respond to his entreaties, the choice for Blair now appears to be to follow the Tories to the right on issues such as law and order and asylum seekers or reinvigorate his own side with pledges of creating a more equal society.

Signs that he will choose the first option have already emerged with New Labour's own brutal attacks on asylum seekers and were yesterday backed up when Education Minister David Blunkett said the government wanted to scrap unemployment payments and cut back on housing benefit.

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