Blair pinched speech from The Grapes of Wrath

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His promise to the party faithful that he would 'always' be with them earned Tony Blair a seven-minute standing ovation.

But the Labour conference may have been slightly less overawed if they had realised that the Prime Minister had based the finale to his farewell speech on the words of a fugitive double murderer.

Mr Blair has confided to friends that he drew inspiration for his big sign-off from a favourite passage of John Steinbeck's 1939 classic The Grapes of Wrath.

The Premier ended his last conference speech by telling delegates: 'Whatever you do, I'm always with you. Head and heart. Next year I won't be making this speech. But in the years to come, wherever I am, whatever I do, I'm with you. Wishing you well, wanting you to win.'

He later admitted he had borrowed heavily from a speech by Tom Joad, the central character of Steinbeck's Pulitzer prize-winning novel about the Great Depression.

Joad, played by Henry Fonda in the film version, tells his mother he is going to come out of hiding to confront a gang of vigilantes, one of whose number he had earlier killed.

Knowing he is likely to be murdered himself, Joad tells his tearful mother that he will always be with her in spirit.

'I'll be everywhere - wherever you look,' he says. 'Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there... an' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build - why, I'll be there. See?'

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