Blair asks for three more years to complete reforms

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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister will use his speech at the conference to unveil a range of plans including greater use of the private sector to deliver choice in the NHS and a big expansion of city academies. A senior Labour official said: "He has committed himself to a programme of work that he wants to see through. There is more than a couple of years work there."

The Prime Minister's appeal for more time to see through his agenda will infuriate supporters of Mr Brown who want their man to take over from Mr Blair in 2007 and give himself more time to prepare for the general election in 2009.

The Independent revealed yesterday that John Prescott has urged Mr Blair to give the party a clear timetable for his departure. The Deputy Prime Minister has also made plain to Mr Blair that he believes it would be fair to Mr Brown if the transition of power took place in 2007. A senior Brown ally said: "We think John has an absolutely crucial role to play in this. We hope that Blair gets the message."

Mr Brown has privately warned that he believes Mr Blair will renege on a deal they reached before the general election and that his attempt to hold on to power until at least 2008 will cause renewed tensions between the men who staged a show of unity at the start of the conference.

There is also a strong doubt that the party will allow Mr Blair to carry on indefinitely without setting out a clear timetable for the handover of power. Many delegates privately said they want an announcement to be made by Mr Blair at next year's conference.

At a fringe meeting yesterday on ways to regain Labour voters, one Labour member told Patricia Hewitt, a senior cabinet supporter of Mr Blair, that the quickest way to revive Labour support would be for Mr Blair to resign.

Ms Hewitt retorted that the transition of power would happen "on the timetable that Tony Blair has set out".

Blairite supporters in the Cabinet have spent this week shifting position to acknowledge that Mr Brown is the undisputed prime minister in waiting, and should be elected by coronation without a challenge. But this has increased suspicions in the Brown camp that the price for their support would be more time for Mr Blair. The Prime Minister's speech today threatens to confirm their fears that Mr Blair is playing for more time.

He is also ready to upset the union bosses who have been demanding the repeal of Thatcherite industrial relations laws and want to allow a return of secondary picketing. Mr Blair will say: "Unless we own the future, unless our values are matched by a completely honest understanding of the reality now upon us and the reality about to hit us, we will fail."

The Chancellor has united with Mr Blair, to the dismay of the unions, in rejecting their calls. Cabinet ministers were furious with Tony Woodley, the leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union, in publicly pressing the case for a return to sympathy action at the conference. One minister said: "I am ashamed to be a member of a union with Tony Woodley as the general secretary."

Another minister said: "They came to Gordon Brown thinking he would just bow to them, but they were wrong. He's always been a reformer - and that cost him dearly when Blair won the leadership."