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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 August, 2003, 06:54 GMT 07:54 UK
Blair chalks up another record

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Blair wants to beat previous Labour governments
Tony Blair is taking his New Labour government into the record books, claiming it has been as successful as any previous administration in history.

He has passed Clement Attlee's record of six years and 92 days in power to become the longest continuously-serving Labour leader.

And, speaking at his monthly Downing Street press conference this week, he declared: "The overall record is one that bears comparison with any government, Labour or Conservative, in the past."

He went on to claim he had fulfilled his pre-election promises.

In the Labour movement in particular it is a red rag to a bull to compare yourself to the Attlee governmen
"I believe that we have done what we were elected to do - to keep the economy stable, to get people back to work, to invest in our public services and in doing so create a country that is more modern, stronger and more fair.

"It is the combination of economic efficiency and social justice that marks this Government out from its predecessors and is the platform on which we must build."

The remarks were clearly designed to use the historic anniversary to put the troubles of the past year behind him and move back onto the domestic agenda.

Welfare state

But they raised more than a few eyebrows because of their invitation to compare his record with that of, to name but two, Clem Attlee and Margaret Thatcher.

In the Labour movement in particular it is a red rag to a bull to compare yourself to the Attlee government.

Attlee is seen as most successful Labour leader
That 1945 post-war administration is widely regarded in the movement as the most radical and transforming government.

It introduced the welfare state with the creation of the NHS and social security through National Insurance.

It built homes for families emerging from the war, it created full employment and introduced the nationalisation of key industries.

There are few, even its critics, who do not agree it transformed Britain.

Harold Wilson's governments were less dramatically radical, but he continued to use taxation in an attempt to narrow social divisions.

Core values

But he was also a moderniser who was ready to take on the unions and, when necessary, cut public spending.

And in many ways Tony Blair has followed in some of Wilson's footsteps. His critics would say most particularly in his move away from traditional, core Labour values.

But Tony Blair clearly hopes he has avoided the failings of the Wilson and, later, Callaghan governments.

Their reputation for economic incompetence hung over Labour probably from the moment Wilson devalued sterling and started talking about the "pound in your pocket and purse".

There is little doubt that the prime minister would like to be seen as the New Labour equivalent of Attlee and he has often likened his plans for the NHS to those pioneering moves by the 1945 government.

But, as he marks this point in Labour history, he knows he is facing challenges which could yet spell disaster.

His government is being battered on all sides, not only on foreign policy - particularly the war on Iraq - but also on domestic issues such as foundation hospitals and student finance.

And his own personal popularity is taking a major battering over spin and the issue of trust.

It seems increasingly clear that the prime minister believes if he is to achieve anything like the transformation of Britain wrought by Attlee, he will need a third full term to do so.

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