Blair echoes Thatcher as he pledges to serve for third term

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair bluntly rejected growing pressure for him to stand down and pledged to serve a full third term as Prime Minister if Labour retains power at the next general election.

As last night's Channel 4 drama The Deal revived speculation that Mr Blair had promised he would eventually stand aside for Gordon Brown during their dinner in 1994 at Islington's Granita restaurant, the Prime Minister declared: "There was no deal, there's never been a deal."

Inviting comparisons with Margaret Thatcher's pledge to "go on and on and on", Mr Blair told BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme: "My memoirs are a long way away." But he insisted that the length of his tenure as Prime Minister was for the voters to decide.

John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, predicted Mr Blair would "lead us to a third - and with the willingness of the electorate - perhaps more great victories".

Mr Blair's pledge to serve a full third term, which would keep him in Downing Street longer than Baroness Thatcher's 11 years, appears at first glance to be a setback to the Chancellor's hopes of succeeding him.

However, some Blair aides believe he would stand down during the next parliament if he holds a euro referendum. To admit to that possibility would risk accusations at the next election of being a "lame duck" Prime Minister.

Mr Blair dismissed a clutch of opinion polls this weekend which suggested that a growing number of voters and Labour Party members want him to stand down.

A survey of 300 party members by YouGov found that more than 40 per cent want him to quit before the election, while another poll by the organisation showed that 26 per cent of people want him to step down now and a further 23 per cent before the next election.

Asked if he had considered quitting, Mr Blair replied: "No, I didn't." He added: "You let the polls come and go. This is a fight at the moment, it's difficult. But the fight we are fighting for is a future which is fairer for everyone in this country. That means tough choices."

He promised to "listen and lead" but offered no concessions to his Labour Party critics over foundation hospitals and university top-up fees. "This is a test of my mettle and my character. We have got to be prepared to do the right thing and go out and explain it to the country."

In an interview with The Observer, Mr Blair admitted he had been "battered" by the events of the past few months but said it would be "catastrophic" to abandon his public service reforms.

"People won't be asking us at the next election whether we have been left-wing enough," he said. People would be saying, he added, "we've paid the tax for this, have we actually got better school results or a better NHS as a result of that?"

Nick Brown, a former cabinet minister and one of the Chancellor's closest allies, said: "There is a feeling now of disquiet, a sense that we have lost our way and in particular a feeling that we are losing the trust of people that ought to be on our side." He warned that top-up fees would deter students from poor families.