The annual conference of Britain's ruling Labor Party unfolded on Sunday afternoon in Manchester, northwest England, with anti-war demonstrations at the fringe.
Manchester police are dispatching 1,000 officers every day during the five-day conference to patrol the island zone sealed off by iron fences around the conference area.
Anti-war protestors from across the country launched huge demonstrations on Saturday around the Manchester city center, holding plaques which read "Troops out Iraq, Afghanistan," "Troops Home," and "Blair go."
Stop-the-War Coalition said 30,000 peace demonstrators were expected to descend in Manchester, and on Sunday the peace movement was holding an alternative event at the University of Manchester to coincide with the Labor Conference.
The conference attracted some 10,000 Labor party members in Britain's third largest city. It was Blair's final conference as leader.
Although there has been constant speculations that party members would use the platform to press for Blair's departure, the prime minister insisted during an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday that the conference would focus on the public's concerns rather than continuing the in-fighting which had been witnessed for the past few weeks.
Blair also refused to comment on who might succeed him when he steps down next year.
Hazel Blears, chair of Labor Party, told reporters in London prior to the convocation of the party gathering that the conference would serve as a forum for policy debate for Labor. It's about "ideas, policy challenges, solutions, and our inspiration for the future."
The conference will address people's concerns around international security and terrorism, mass migration, environment and climate change, international trade and aid, and in particular,the challenges from new economies such as China, India and other emerging states.
On the domestic front, Blears said, the meeting will concentrate on the respect agenda, education and health reform as well as social exclusion.
"If the 20th century was a conservative century for Britain from Churchill to Thatcher, the 21st century can be a progressive, radical century with Tony Blair as the first and many of Labor Prime Ministers," she argued.
In her view, it was not the most successful electoral period in the history of Labor Party in Britain. "Labor is right now in its third term of government. Labor remained the party of economic stability and social justice more jobs, low inflation, a rising national minimum wage, and more action to tackle child poverty."
"We are the government which has brought the Olympics to Britain, which has overseen the renaissance of our great cities, and which is bringing new children's centers to hundreds of our communities," she noted in the preface for a book released for the conference.
According to Blears, the conference venue in Manchester was a metaphor for New Labor. It's the birthplace of the Trade Union Congress and home for suffrages.
Manchester was an example of regeneration, transformation and renewal. She hopes that the conference will have the same sense of renewal and transformation for Labor.
Some 10 million people voted for Labor in the last election. And right now, Labor has around 200,000 members. The conference therefore would be a renewing drive for Labor Party both in political term and organization term.
If Labor stay true with its values and unite to face the challenges, "a fourth term is actually within our grasp," Blears said.
(Xinhua News Agency September 25, 2006)