Blair: I will stand as PM for third term

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair insisted last night that he would lead Labour into the next general election - but stopped short of pledging to serve a full third term.

The Prime Minister laughed off as "bizarre" reports that he planned to stand down this autumn when Cherie, his wife, turned 50.

"Whatever the problems and pressures, this is an immensely enjoyable and fulfilling job and I intend to carry on doing it. I will be putting myself forward," Mr Blair told the News of the World.

He admitted responsibility for a failure to "prepare the ground" on tuition fees issue, which led to the biggest backbench rebellion against domestic legislation for more than four decades.

There was little in the way of conciliation for those minded to rebel on other issues, however, as he told Labour MPs to "reconnect with what is actually happening in their constituencies."

"If they think the choice is ever going to be an old-style Labour Party winning an election, that is not going to happen," he said.

He said that he "wouldn't have given up the reform" even if he had lost the vote - an admission that will enrage some of his backbench critics.

Mr Blair brushed off suggestions that he could leave Downing Street as early as this autumn in time for his wife Cherie's 50th birthday.

"I think the notion that you should determine this in relation to Cherie's birthday is one of the more bizarre suggestions I have come across," he said.

He said that although "you have people kicking lumps out of you, you can live with it, and I do," he said.

He made a point of stressing that he was in good health during the newspaper interview, his first since the publication of the Hutton report and a series of heart scares.

"You have got to take that long view and realise that you have got your health, you've got your family, you're the leader of a fantastic country at a crucial moment in history - so what are you complaining about?"

The day before the Government announces what, if any, restrictions it will impose on workers coming to Britain from the accession countries joining the EU on 1 May, Mr Blair signaled that asylum applications have dropped.

He said: "Yes, the system was being abused. And yes, some of that abuse is still going on. But there is tremendous change also happening,"

The public should "believe the evidence of their own lives" on whether the Government's public service reforms were working, he said.

"Don't just believe the statistics, go your local school and see if there has been additional investment.

"Look at what's happening with the treatment you get from the NHS and whether you think you are being well treated or not.

"There is a very clear difference between the public's own perception ... and their perception of the national picture."