BEFORE Tony Blair took to the stage yesterday to deliver a speech to a packed audience of Labour supporters, the fuse box tripped and everyone was plunged into darkness.

"I'm told that 20 minutes ago all the lights went out," said John Burton, Mr Blair's Sedgefield constituency agent during the rally at Trimdon Labour Club.

"The Prime Minister arrives and, of course, the lights come on - and that's been the story for the past ten years."

Fully illuminated, Mr Blair went on to deliver one of his most scathing attacks on Conservative leader David Cameron ahead of the forthcoming local elections, accusing the Tories of being devoid of any political conviction.

He said: "Almost 18 months now into the new Tory leadership under David Cameron, I don't believe that they have, yet, a proper strategy for Government.

"Yes, they are better now at the tactics of using media and Parliament to harry the Government, but every time they are called on to make a big judgement on policy, they misfire."

Mr Blair criticised the Conservatives for voting on civil liberty grounds "against measures the public would support", such as tighter border controls and measures to combat terrorism.

He said: "Their desire to tax cheap air travel is not the way to protect the environment.

"By refusing to take a position on nuclear power, they forfeit seriousness in respect of both energy security and the reduction of greenhouse gases," he said, questioning Mr Cameron's perceived strong suit - the green agenda.

On the subject of tax breaks for married couples, Mr Blair said Tory policy had "lapsed into total incoherence", citing decisions to support married couples without children, but not single parents, bringing up children alone.

Concluding, he said: "Remember 1997 and remember what this constituency was like, how Britain was.

"Compare it with the Sedgefield and Britain of 2007 and then face the future with confidence."

Mr Cameron, in Newton Abbot, Devon, as part of his own pre-election tour, hit back at the Prime Minister's comments.

''I think it is rather sad he is having to do these personal attacks after ten years,'' he said.

''The Conservative Party is doing well as an opposition because we are actually behaving like a Government.

''The problem with the Government is that they behave like an opposition - it is all gimmicks and headlines and nothing ever happens.'

. . . and then on a pan of sausages

HUDDLED around the campfire frying sausages for lunch, the Prime Minister cut an unusual figure among a troupe of Scouts yesterday.

Mr Blair took a break from political and business engagements to help scouts in County Durham celebrate the centenary of the movement.

Members of the 2nd Bishop Auckland Scout Group invited him to join a 100th anniversary party in the grounds of Hardwick Hall Hotel, in Sedgefield, County Durham.

The youngsters told him about scouting in the 21st Century, with an introduction to the troupe's new global positioning system, which is used to plan hiking trips and expeditions.

Mr Blair took a trip down Memory Lane when he saw that traditional scouting activities, such as camping, cooking on an open fire and games, were still enjoyed.

He revealed to leaders that he was a Cub Scout with the 10th Durham Choristers Pack while a pupil at The Choristers School, in Durham.

Mr Blair spoke to members about the importance of positive youth activities, such as Scouting, at a time when young people were often given a poor image.

He said: "One of the great things about Scouts is that you are out in the open air, in the countryside, having respect for the environment.

"It helps make rounded young people who can work with others and provides good opportunities. Employers want young people with qualifications and exams, but what is more important is that they get on with other people."

Group leader Gary Ingham said: "A lot of the traditional skills still exist - camping and working together in groups.

"The difference is we have boys and girls now, though Bishop Auckland is so full there are only girls in the Explorers group at the moment.

"We have to change with the times and introduce new technologies and activities, but the traditional values are still important."

Mr Blair also presented Jordan Hymas, 13, of Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, with one of the movement's highest honours - the Chief Scouts Gold Award.

Jordan said: "That was really good, not many people can say the Prime Minister presented them with an award.

"I have been in Scouts for eight years and think it is great.

"It gets kids off the streets, doing adventure activities, first aid, survival skills and all sorts of really good stuff you can use in the future."

Bishop tells Blair, 'you haven't kept it real'

THE Bishop of Durham has launched a stinging attack on Tony Blair's record saying local people do not believe he leads a "real" Labour government.

The Right Reverend Tom Wright said the Prime Minister was a breath of fresh air when he ousted the Tories from Downing Street, but there was now widespread disappointment.

In particular, Dr Wright criticised Mr Blair's failure to narrow the gulf between the haves and have-nots created under Margaret Thatcher.

There were shoots of recovery in the North-East, he said, but it was usually developers coming into the region who were reaping the rewards, rather than local people.

Condemning the invasion of Iraq as a fool's errand, Dr Wright said most people were horrified by what they saw as Mr Blair "going around the world, beating up Johnny foreigner".

In a newspaper article, he wrote: "There is a very strong sense across County Durham that, whoever these people in Government are, they are not real Labour.

"Developers are coming in and making money and the old communities are not actually being affected. So you can stand beside the new Hilton hotel, just beside the Tyne bridge, in Gateshead, and it is a very short walk from there to areas of chronic urban blight and deprivation."

Even in Easington, County Durham - "one of the most deprived parts of the country" - young people could not afford to buy homes because of the explosion in property prices.

Dr Wright added: "This Government has not reversed what happened under Margaret Thatcher, when society divided between haves and have-nots. At the moment, I would be a very floating voter."

The comments are embarrassing for Mr Blair, because the bishop is based only ten miles from his Sedgefield constituency at Bishop Auckland Castle.