Jowell calls for PM to serve full term in office

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A drubbing in today's local elections should not stop Tony Blair serving a full term as Prime Minister, according to the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell.

Ms Jowell, one of Mr Blair's strongest supporters, called on the Prime Minister to resist the pressure to step down before his reforms are in place and warned the Labour Party not to use the local elections as a referendum on the Prime Minister. Ms Jowell is leading Labour's campaign for the local elections in London.

She said the campaign had been "avowedly local", focusing on issues such as wheelie bins, antisocial behaviour, graffiti and abandoned cars. Critics claim Labour is avoiding national issues in the elections to ensure that the scandals of the past few weeks do not turn into a rout at the polls, which could increase the pressure for Gordon Brown to take over from Mr Blair.

However, Ms Jowell said: "The only thing that needs to be is what the Prime Minister has said almost exactly a year ago: If Labour is re-elected he would serve a full third term. Our only responsibility is to get on and do the job we have been elected to do.

"People are not interested in the soap operas of politics. They want us to tackle crime, antisocial behaviour and give people a means to feel they live in a community with a strong neighbourhood. There is a hunger for that in London."

One ministerial source said Mr Blair had sanctioned the spending of £1mon the local campaign in London to stop the polls being seen as a watershed for his term of office.

Ms Jowell, however, was lowering expectations ahead of the polls. "We all recognise that... it is a difficult time for the Government," she said. "But it's also the first big test for ... David Cameron. At this stage, we are being realistic. The last time we fought elections in London we were 10 to 15 points ahead in the opinion polls. We are now neck-and-neck with the Tories. We know opinion polls tend to over-estimate our support."

Ms Jowell also dismissed as "pure invention" a report that she planned to quit the Cabinet over the possible trial of her husband, David Mills, on corruption charges.