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Today in history... hostile reception for Prime Minister

12:00am | & Lifestyle

After just three years as Prime Minister, following Labour's landslide election win of 1997, Tony Blair was still enjoying fairly widespread popularity, but he was in for a rough ride when he addressed a 10,000-strong crowd on May 7th, 2000.

It wasn't opposition politicians, left-wing trade unionists or even student activists who turned on the smiling PM, but members of that Great British institution – the Women's Institute.

Giving a speech to the national WI conference at Wembley, Mr Blair was welcomed with polite but unenthusiastic applause, and from there it was all downhill. As his speech wore on, audience members began to heckle him, several walked out, then a slow hand clap began to spread throughout the auditorium.

With Mr Blair looking increasingly uneasy, it was left to the WI Chairwoman Helen Carey to intervene and appeal to members to listen politely. He resumed his speech, but dropped a large section of it and left the stage to muted applause.

It has been an unexpected PR disaster for New Labour, with the press suggesting Mr Blair had been "handbagged" by the WI. Many of the delegates protested there was simply no place for an overtly political speech at the WI conference, one saying: "This is just not on. This is the WI. We are not here for this."

Others simply branded the speech overly long and dull. Later there was controversy over whether the Prime Minister had been invited to speak at the conference, or whether his office had approached the WI seeking the opportunity.

The WI had been in the international news after a dozen members from Rylstone in North Yorkshire launched their 'Alternative WI Calendar' in which they were pictured in tasteful nude poses. To their amazement, the charity calendar proved a huge hit and made headlines around the world, leading to accusations that Mr Blair had been trying to jump on the publicity bandwagon.

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