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General election victory speech, 2001

Tony Blair (Labour)

Location: 10 Downing Street

I have just returned from Buckingham Palace, from my audience with the Queen.

I want to say what an enormous privilege and honour it is to be trusted with the government of this country and I am deeply conscious of that privilege and honour at this time.

I would like to congratulate all the MPs from whatever political party who have been elected to the House of Commons.

I would like also to say this word about my opponent in the election, Mr Hague.

Even though obviously I profoundly disagreed with many of the things he may have said during the course of this campaign, I thought he showed extraordinary stoicism and resilience in very difficult circumstances and I said to him in the early hours of this morning I wish him well, I wish him the very best of luck in the future.

It has been a remarkable and historic victory for my party but I am in no doubt at all as to what it means.

It is a mandate for reform and for investment in the future and it is also very clearly an instruction to deliver.

I have learnt many things over the past four years as prime minister. I have, I hope, learnt from the mistakes as well as the good things.

But above all else I have learnt of the importance of establishing the clear priorities of government, of setting them out clearly for people and then focusing on them relentlessly whatever events may come and go.

I believe there is an even greater obligation on us, on me, after re-election to tell people very clearly what are the difficult choices and challenges we face and how we work our way through them and that I will try to do.

So in the course of the campaign we have just had, I set out in a series of speeches the changes that I believe the country needs to see.

On the foundation of a strong economy, we need to keep it strong. We need to make sure that mortgages and inflation are as strong as possible.

But then on top of that we need to start building the economy of the future based on skills and talents and education and the application of technology, knowing that for this country in the future the forces of global competition and technological change mean that we can only compete on the basis of skill and ability, not low wages.

And then, we have the critical importance of investment in, and reform of, our public services, most particularly our National Health Service, our education system and our transport system.

Again here, from talking to people, from meeting them, from hearing their concerns over the past few weeks, that they may applaud the direction in which we wish to go, but they want us to do it as fast and as profoundly as we possibly can and that again is an obligation that we must discharge.

In our welfare system we need change too. We need to separate very clearly those who cannot work, who need security and protection and must have it, and those who can work but at present don't, who we must try to help off a life on benefit and into productive work.

Then there is the reform of our criminal justice system. There is no issue that touches our citizens more deeply than crime and law and order on our streets and we need to make the changes there so that we have a criminal justice system that punishes the criminal, but also offers those convicted of crime the chance to rehabilitate and get their way out of a life of crime.

Finally, in respect of Europe and the wider world, we need to make changes there too so that we are engaged, exerting influence, having the self belief not to turn our back on the world or retreat into isolationism.

These changes will not be easy. But Britain is a very special country and its people are a very special people and our very best quality is our ability, when we need to do so, to face up to and overcome the challenge of change.

All those changes are for one purpose and that again is the purpose I have tried to set out in the few weeks of this campaign and will try to set out again in the years to come.

And the purpose of each and every change that we make must be this - to create a society which is a genuine open, meritocratic nation where we have laid to one side the old adage about knowing your place and where the only place that any man, woman or child knows is the place that their talents take them, where we create a country genuinely where not just a few people at the top, but everyone, every one of our citizens gets the chance to fulfil their true potential.

I believe in the last four years we have laid foundations. I believe our victory in this election shows the British people understand we have laid foundations but now is the time to build upon them. Thank you.

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