Blair plans show of strength to squash leadership rumours

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Tony Blair will seek to shore up his position as Prime Minister after Thursday's local and European elections by implementing a fightback plan in which he will outline new policies on health, education, crime and transport.

Tony Blair will seek to shore up his position as Prime Minister after Thursday's local and European elections by implementing a fightback plan in which he will outline new policies on health, education, crime and transport.

Mr Blair has decided to address Labour MPs at their weekly meeting next Monday in an attempt to win an informal vote of confidence from them and squash any new outbreak of speculation that he might stand down before the next general election. Although Labour is expected to suffer a backlash over the Iraq war on Thursday, Mr Blair's aides are confident he will survive the inevitable criticism from inside his party that would follow.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, was originally due to speak at Monday's meeting but Mr Blair will now issue a "business as usual" message by updating his MPs on the Government's "forward plans". These include five-year programmes for the Home Office and the departments of Education, Health and Transport which will form key planks in the Labour manifesto for the general election expected next May.

Mr Blair, who is determined not to "hide away" after poor results on Thursday, is due to hold his monthly press conference next Tuesday. Next week is bound to be dominated by Europe because a crucial EU summit takes place in Brussels on 17-18 June to agree the proposed new EU constitution.

In the following week, the Prime Minister will try to switch the political spotlight away from Europe and Iraq by trailing some of the ideas in the five-year plans and making a major speech on public services.

Downing Street has abandoned the idea of trying to "move on" from Iraq, recognising that it cannot possibly control events on the ground. It is braced for further setbacks as al-Qa'ida tries to disrupt the path to Iraqi elections due early next year but hopes that British politics will be dominated by domestic issues.

Another important element in the fightback plan will be the Government-wide spending review to be unveiled by Gordon Brown next month.

Yesterday Mr Blair reiterated his intention to lead Labour into the next election, although he stopped short of saying that he would serve a full third time. He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: "There is a lot more work we have got to do as a Government."

He played down the advance by the UK Independence Party, which supports withdrawal from the EU. "Whatever happens in these European elections, and the turnout is never the same as a general election, when you really face people with that choice, then I think they understand that it is not very sensible."

UKIP's threat to the Conservatives was illustrated when Tories in Stroud issued a leaflet seeking support in the local election "whichever way you vote in the European election".

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