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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 May, 2005, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Blair looks to packed programme
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Since he was re-elected just a week ago Tony Blair has been determined to shut down any speculation over his leadership.

Tony Blair

And his first press conference since the poll was remarkable for the fact that the issue simply did not run at all.

Exactly when the prime minister will stand down, as he has promised to do, and whether he plans to hand over to Gordon Brown, are probably the most talked about issues in Westminster at the moment.

Yet apart from a couple of brief, dismissive replies that "I have nothing to add to what I said in the election campaign", there was nothing.

The prime minister was there to present the image of a re-invigorated leader, fully in charge of his government and with a packed programme of legislation to tackle the big issues of the day.

That is, after all, what a prime minister should probably be doing. And that is precisely what he did do.

Shopping centres

He announced a big programme of work, including planned white papers on the NHS and schools and a green paper on reform of incapacity benefit, and that his rehabilitated minister David Blunkett would forge new proposals on pensions.

But he concentrated on what is clearly one of his biggest issues - respect.

Tony Blair talking to new Labour MPs
Blair had been bouyed by MPs' response
He gave full backing to moves to ban hoodies and baseball caps in shopping centres and said a society without unnecessary deference need not be a society without respect or rules of behaviour.

Tackling anti-social behaviour will be one of his top priorities.

He offered both the Tory and Liberal Democrat parties advice on how to sort their parites out and decide where they stand on the political spectrum.

He even appeared happy to accept that some of his programme, such as on schools discipline, had been central to the Tories' election manifesto.

But as for his own plans which, because of his pre-announced resignation, will cast a long shadow over his historic third term, he had nothing to say.

Low key

The show of support he received from the majority of his MPs at the first meeting of the parliamentary party on Wednesday night started the process of pushing the issue to the sidelines.

And the prime minister's performance at his press conference took it further.

There had been speculation that he was ready to "do a Howard" and map out a detailed timetable for his resignation and possible handover.

But if the current campaign to shut this issue down succeeds to the extent it is so far doing, that probably will not become necessary.

It was a surprisingly low key and uneventful press conference.

For that, the prime minister will probably be delighted with a job well done.




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