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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 February, 2004, 05:52 GMT
I'll fight third term says Blair
Tony Blair
Blair laughed off rumours he would stand down in the autumn
Tony Blair has vowed to stand for a third term in office, after what he described as his "toughest time" as prime minister.

Mr Blair, speaking to the News Of The World in his first interview since the Hutton report, said he believes he is "stronger than ever".

He described his job as "immensely enjoyable and fulfilling".

And he laughed off suggestions he would leave office in time for his wife Cherie's 50th birthday in the autumn.

Whatever the problems and pressures this is an immensely enjoyable and fulfilling job
Tony Blair

Mr Blair told the newspaper: "You have people kicking lumps out of you, but you can live with it, and I do.

"Whatever the problems and pressures this is an immensely enjoyable and fulfilling job and I intend to carry on doing it.

"I will be putting myself forward."

The persistent rumours that the Chancellor Gordon Brown wants the top job have increased in the past few months.

In Sunday's News Of The World Mr Blair says the decision over prime minister was one for the "British people".

Narrowly survived

He said he knew how football managers felt when people kept asking them about who was "after" their job.

But he said there was "no point" in such speculation.

His family supported his decision to fight on, Mr Blair told the paper.

And on the rumours he could time his departure for his wife's 50th, he said: "I think the notion that you should determine this in relation to Cherie's birthday is one of the more bizarre suggestions I have come across."

If they think the choice is ever going to be an old-style Labour Party winning an election, that is not going to happen
Tony Blair on Labour rebel MPs

But he acknowledged that the past few months have presented him with his "toughest time" as premier.

January saw him narrowly survive a Commons vote on the controversial university tuition fees, which analysts believe left him wounded.

In the same week the publication of the Hutton report - ending months of turmoil following the death of Dr David Kelly - cleared the prime minister but still led to accusations of a whitewash.

He told the newspaper he was "pleased" with the outcome of the inquiry.

"An allegation that you actually abused the intelligence is about as serious an allegation that could ever be made and I always knew it was untrue," he said.

Labour rebels

But his decision to lead the country into war with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction is still a difficult issue.

Mr Blair said he had to "wear" criticisms from former Cabinet colleagues.

"You can't stop people saying what they want to say, that is a democracy," he said.

On dealing with rebel MPs within the Labour Party the prime minister said it was important for them to "reconnect with what is actually happening in their constituencies and the changes that the government is making".

"If they think the choice is ever going to be an old-style Labour Party winning an election, that is not going to happen," he said.

In the News Of The World interview Mr Blair spoke of his determination to show Labour's improvements in British schools and hospitals and his aim to crackdown on asylum.

He also gave his backing to a News Of The World campaign for random drugs tests in schools.




SEE ALSO:
Hutton polls not good for Blair
01 Feb 04  |  Politics
Analysis: Blair's domestic relaunch
12 Feb 04  |  Politics
Blair's message to Brown
08 Dec 03  |  Politics


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