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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 March, 2005, 18:25 GMT
Blair attempts to woo back women
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair spoke to women who had previously supported Labour
The prime minister has defended his record in office during a televised debate with women who have lost faith in Labour.

Speaking on ITV, Tony Blair refused to make an apology for taking Britain to war in Iraq, and insisted history would prove he had made the right decision.

He also admitted he had been "swept along" with the "euphoria" surrounding Labour's election victory in 1997.

But he said he was convinced Britain is a better country now than it was then.

"I just hope in 2005 if you do a balance sheet it is not all bad," he told the Jonathan Dimbleby programme on Sunday.

"Some things I hope are better. I think the economy is stronger. There are things like unemployment that we don't talk about any more."

He also admitted that he was "as disappointed as anyone" that his term in office had not lived up to the initial excitement.

"It is in the nature of the job that I do that no one's expectations are ever completely fulfilled, including my own," he said.

'Toughest decision'

The female audience quizzed Mr Blair heavily on the war in Iraq.

"Will you have the humility to tell us you actually made a mistake, because if you did I would vote for you again," one woman asked.

Mr Blair replied that he could not do that.

"If you want to elect me on my saying I regret going to war when I don't that would be foolish for both of us. I can only tell the truth," he said.

I'm not actually doing you any favours, or the country any favours, if I turn around just before an election and say 'I'm sorry. I didn't really mean it'
Prime Minister Tony Blair

"The truth is I believe I did the right things and I believe also that in time to come - maybe not quick enough frankly for any general election - but in time to come, people will see it was the right decision."

He also suggested that a lack of an apology should not stop them from voting Labour in the coming election.

"I am deeply aware of the damage that it has done," he said.

"All I can do is tell you it was the toughest decision I ever had to take. I took it honestly and I still believe it to be right.

"And I'm not actually doing you any favours, or the country any favours, if I turn around just before an election and say 'I'm sorry. I didn't really mean it'."

An ICM poll on Sunday for the News of the World suggested that female voters would be more inclined to vote for Labour if Chancellor Gordon Brown were its leader.

It found only 9% believe Mr Blair should fulfil his pledge to serve a full third term as prime minister if re-elected, and one in three say he should quit immediately.

It also found 54% of women think Mr Blair is out of touch and unable to understand ordinary people.

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