Blair: I'll serve for a second full term

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Tony Blair declared yesterday that he would serve a full second term as Prime Minister if Labour wins the next general election, quashing speculation that he might stand down in mid-term.

Tony Blair declared yesterday that he would serve a full second term as Prime Minister if Labour wins the next general election, quashing speculation that he might stand down in mid-term.

Mr Blair's statement will be seen as a setback to Gordon Brown's hopes of succeeding him as Prime Minister. But Mr Brown's allies insisted last night that they never expected Mr Blair to leave his job halfway through the next Parliament, with one aide predicting he would be Prime Minister for 15 years.

Friends of the Chancellor claim Mr Blair and Mr Brown struck a deal after the death in 1994 of former leader John Smith, under which Mr Brown backed his fellow moderniser for the Labour leadership in return for a promise that he would make way for Mr Brown halfway through his second term as Prime Minister.

There has been another flurry of speculation that Mr Blair would not serve a full second term, after the birth of his fourth child, Leo, and his tired appearance in the Government's recent rough patch.

On his flight back from the G8 summit in Japan, Mr Blair used a BBC interview to scotch the rumours. Downing Street added later: "The Prime Minister was saying that if he stands for election, then he stands as Prime Minister for a full term."

Mr Blair said: "I don't take any elections for granted, but if I fight an election, I fight it to be Prime Minister. And as for this being tired by the stresses and strains of the job, this is a privilege, this job, and it's an honour to do it."

He suggested that it would be the voters who called time on his spell at Downing Street. "I can't think of a more exciting job at this juncture of British history and what's happening in the rest of the world. I'll do it, but in the end recognising that however much I may enjoy it - and I do enjoy it - it's for the British people to take the decision whether I continue or not."

Asked whether he was guaranteeing he would stay for a full second term, Mr Blair replied: "Well, as I've just said to you, if I fight an election I fight to be elected and to remain Prime Minister."

Despite the declaration, some Labour MPs said Mr Blair could still change his mind and quit before serving two full terms. They said if he had answered differently he would have been branded a "lame duck Prime Minister".

Mr Brown, the front-runner to succeed Mr Blair, is two years older than the Prime Minister and could be 56 by the end of a second Labour term of office. He would not be seen as too old, but other candidates may have emerged, the economy may have weakened and the Scottish Parliament would be well established, making it less likely that Labour would elect a Scot as leader.

Mr Blair said there would no cabinet reshuffle this summer, but did not rule one out before the general election that he is expected to call next spring.

"We should have reshuffles when it is the right thing for the country and the right thing for the Government. I don't feel under any pressure to do that at all at the moment," he said.

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