Blair launches farewell with 'bloke next door' joke

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair today launched his farewell speech to Labour's conference with a joke at his relationship with Gordon Brown.

The Prime Minister told cheering delegates in Manchester, after thanking wife Cherie for her support over the years: "I mean, I don't have to worry about her running off with the bloke next door."

Mrs Blair has been engulfed by controversy over remarks she was reported to have made pouring scorn on Mr Brown's own address to conference yesterday.

Mr Blair told the conference: "In government you carry each hope, each disillusion, and in politics it's always about the next challenge.

"The truth is, you can't go on forever. That's why it is right that this is my last conference as leader. Of course it is hard to let go but it is also right to let go - for the country and for you, the party."

Mr Blair, who was given an enthusiastic welcome by delegates as he took the stage for his last address to them as leader, went on: "Over the coming months I will take through the changes I have worked on so hard these past years.

"And I will help build a unified party with a strong platform for the only legacy that has ever mattered to me - a fourth term election victory that allows us to keep changing Britain for the better."

But he added, pointedly: "And I want to heal. There has been a lot of talk of lies and truths these past few weeks.

"In no relationship at the top of any walk of life is it always easy, least of all in politics which matters so much and which is conducted in such a piercing spotlight.

"But I know New Labour would never have happened and three election victories would never have been secured without Gordon Brown.

"He is a remarkable man, a remarkable servant to this country - and that is the truth."

Mr Blair went on to outline the challenge facing his party saying: "I won't be leading you in the next election but I've sat in the hot seat for 10 years.

"Here's my advice - the scale of the challenges now dwarf what we faced in 1997. They are different, deeper, bigger, hammered out on the anvil of forces, global in nature, sweeping the world."

He said there were many opportunities alongside the worldwide challenges but added: "With these opportunities comes huge insecurity."

He said 10 years ago energy policy had not been on the agenda, neither was the future of pensions nor immigration and "terrorism meant the IRA".

Mr Blair went on: "Not any more. We used to feel we could shut our front door on the problems and conflicts of the wider world - not any more.

"Not with globalisation, not with climate change, not with organised crime, not when suicide bombers born and bred in Britain bring carnage to the streets of London in the name of religion."

He said: "A speech by the Pope to an academic seminar in Bavaria leads to protests in Britain."

The Prime Minister told the party faithful: "The danger in all this, for us, is not ditching New Labour. The danger is failing to understand that New Labour in 2007 won't be New Labour in 1997."

Stressing the need for continued public service reform, Mr Blair said that with extra cash being ploughed into the NHS and state education " expectations rise - people want power in their own hands".

He insisted: "My advice: at the next election, the issue will not only be who is trusted to invest in our public services, vital though that is.

"It will be who comes first, and our answer has to be the patient, the parent."

He said he wanted to meet targets for an 18-week maximum waiting time in the NHS and to transform secondary schools in the way he said Labour had done for primary schools.

"Do this and we will have earned the right to be custodians of our public services for the next generation.

"If we fail, and without change we will, then believe me: change will still be done but in a regressive way by a Conservative party.

"I want change true to progressive values, done by a fourth-term Labour government."

The Prime Minister went on to defend his policies on law and order and anti-terrorism legislation saying the centrepiece of the next parliamentary session would be further legislation on immigration and law and order.

He insisted: "The new anxiety is the global struggle against terrorism without mercy or limit.

"This is a struggle that will last a generation and more but this I believe passionately - we will not win until we shake ourselves free of the wretched capitulation to the propaganda of the enemy, that somehow we are the ones responsible.

"This terrorism isn't our fault, we didn't cause it. It's not the consequence of foreign policy, it's an attack on our way of life."

Mr Blair also mounted a staunch defence of his policy on Iraq and Afghanistan saying: "If we retreat now, hand Iraq over to al Qaida and sectarian death squads and Afghanistan back to al Qaida and the Taliban, we won't be safer, we will be committing a craven act of surrender that will put our future security in the deepest peril."

The Premier also acknowledged controversy over his support for US president George Bush saying: "Yes, it's hard sometimes to be America's strongest ally. Yes, Europe can be a political headache for a proud sovereign nation like Britain.

"But believe me there are no half-hearted allies of America today and no semi-detached partners in Europe.

"And the truth is that nothing we strive for from the world trade talks to global warming, to terrorism and Palestine can be solved without America or without Europe."

Mr Blair ended his speech with his own farewell message to the party in which he told delegates: "The danger for us today is not reversion to the politics of the 1980s, it is retreat to the sidelines, to the comfort zone. It is unconsciously to lose the psychology of a governing party.

"As I said in 1994, courage is our friend, caution our enemy. A governing party has confidence, self-belief. It sees the tough decision and thinks it should be taking it; reaches for responsibility first; serves by leading.

"The most common phrase uttered to me is not 'I hate you' or 'I like you' but 'I would not have your job for all the world'.

"The British people will, sometimes, forgive a wrong decision. They won't forgive not deciding."

The Premier went on to warn his party: "There are no third term popular governments. Don't ignore the polls but don't be paralysed by them either.

"Ten years on our advantage is time, our disadvantage, time. Time gives us experience, our capacity to lead is greater.

"Time gives the people fatigue, their willingness to be led is less but they will lose faith in us only if first we lose faith in ourselves.

"Polls now are as relevant as last year's weather forecast for tomorrow's weather. It's three years until an election.

"The first rule of politics: there are no rules. You make your own luck."

He urged his party to "get after" the Tories pouring scorn on leader David Cameron's foreign and domestic policies.