Blair makes it clear: 'I want to see through five years'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair gave the clearest signal so far yesterday that he intends to carry on for another five years, frustrating Gordon Brown's hopes of taking over the premiership.

Tony Blair gave the clearest signal so far yesterday that he intends to carry on for another five years, frustrating Gordon Brown's hopes of taking over the premiership.

Speaking at his final press conference before the summer recess, the Prime Minister said ministers would be publishing more five-year plans to refocus the Government on its domestic agenda. "I want to see them through," said Mr Blair.

He denied he had considered resigning over the criticism on the war on Iraq, and echoed cabinet allies who said Mr Blair was stronger because he had survived a crisis of confidence.

"It has been a testing time over these past few months but the Government has come through strengthened and renewed. There are big challenges ahead but we go forward with renewed optimism that we are going to meet these challenges successfully."

Mr Blair is planning a speech tomorrow at the Labour policy forum before going with his family to Barbados, to stay at the holiday home of Sir Cliff Richard, leaving John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, to take charge while he is on holiday.

Mr Blair is expected to reinforce the message that the radical reforms of the public services will continue, in spite of criticism by the unions and a warning by his deputy this week about the need for caution in the run-up to the election.

Mr Blair claimed progress on public service delivery was "becoming irreversible".

A "step change" was under way, said Mr Blair, with hospital waiting times going down while cancer and heart disease survival rates were up.

There was a "particular problem" with alcohol-related violent crime, he conceded. But he said: "There is little doubt crime is falling, as today's figures confirm. Even the performance of our railways is slowly picking up, although from a very low base," he continued. A graph of performance on the railways looked like a big dipper, and Mr Blair said the dips were caused by "leaves on the line" every autumn. He said Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, had "stabilised" rail performance but it was "very tough".

"The problem with transport is perfectly simple. You have had a 20 per cent increase in usage on rail, and road and Tube so you have massive additional demand on the system and you have under-investment for years. Hatfield [the crash] was a defining moment for rail. We thought the traffic infrastructure was not in good shape, we did not know how bad it was until Hatfield happened," Mr Blair said.

Michael Barber, the head of the delivery unit in Downing Street, said in an end-of-term report that there was progress across the public services, including the crime figures, which he said showed the steep rise in robbery had been reversed.

However, he said school truancy was proving "an intractable problem" with no progress since Labour came to power.

Mr Barber bolstered Mr Blair's belief in radical reforms. He said "bold reforms" and effective management delivered the most progress in the public services. The foundations had been laid for further radical reform but "the task is far from complete".

On Northern Ireland, Mr Blair made it clear that the summit he has called for September will be of vital importance to the continuing peace process in Ulster. The Prime Minister said that Northern Ireland was now "beyond the point of compromise" over paramilitarism, and it was vital that any party wanting to take part in democratic politics ended all links with violence.

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