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Sunday, September 26, 1999 Published at 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK

UK Politics

Blair denies 10-year ambition

Blair's ambition could thwart Gordon Brown's hopes of becoming PM

Tony Blair has denied newspaper reports that he wants to emulate Margaret Thatcher by staying in power for at least 10 years.

Several Sunday newspapers had quoted Mr Blair's official spokesman as saying that the prime minister aims to serve at least another full five-year term, after winning the next election.

The BBC's Tim Franks reports: "Tony Blair denied comparing himself to Mrs Thatcher"
But speaking on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme, Mr Blair said the reports were a "complete mystery".

"I have never said that I'm going to serve three terms, I have never said that I want to be like Mrs Thatcher and go on and on and on," he said.

"And in particular I would never do anything that takes the next election for granted because it is the British people that will be the judge and jury on whether I serve again as Prime Minister."

Tony Blair: "I have never said that I'm going to serve three terms"
Mr Blair's reported amibition had been seen as a significant blow to Chancellor Gordon Brown's hopes of succeeding Mr Blair during a second Labour term of office.

But Mr Blair told the programme he had neither told Mr Brown he would never be leader, nor that he was his chosen successor.

"It's not for me to choose my successor," he said. "He is someone with every quality to be a great British Prime Minister.

"But whether he's Prime Minister or I'm Prime Minister or all the rest of it depends on the British people."

'Economic competence'

The programme was broadcast from Bournemouth where Labour is gathered for its annual conference.

At the conference, Mr Blair is expected to stress that Labour has become a party of economic competence.

[ image: The Prime Minister denied telling Gordon Brown he would never be leader]
The Prime Minister denied telling Gordon Brown he would never be leader
But Sir David Frost questioned him on whether Labour's economic management had led to the the abandonment of traditional social policies such as investment in health and education.

Mr Blair conceded there was "still an awful lot to do", but said voters should look to the long-term.

After being prudent for the first two years of power and "sorting out the public finances", the government was in a position to spend more in the next three years of its term, he said.

Tony Blair; "When we came to office we had to stabilise the economy"
"We're now going into a period of increased spending with the budget coming into surplus, with us able to run an efficient economy, get interest rates down, have inflation low," he said.

"And therefore we are able not just to spend the money in one year and take it away the next, but to carry on spending it year after year."

War chest hopes dashed

Later in the interview, he appeared to dash hopes of a financial "war chest" which could supply a round of tax-cuts and government spending before the next election.

"What is important is that we spend wisely, and prudently, because if we don't we'll be back in the problems we had before.

Tony Blair: "We must avoid going back to boom and bust"
"And if I'm obsessed about anything in terms of economic management it is to avoid going back to boom and bust," he said.

"That is the death of industry, that is the death of long-term planning and it's the death of success for this country."

Mr Blair refused to be drawn on the issue of grant-maintained schools approaching parents for funding.

The issue came to light after Mr Blair was asked to pay £30 a term to the school attended by his sons.

He said it was wrong in principle for people to be put under pressure to pay for eduction, but that schools were perfectly entitled to appeal for funds.

Drugs and crime

Mr Blair is due to give his keynote speech to the conference on Tuesday.

He told the programme that his speech would focus on drug-related crime, which he said was one of the "biggest social problems" facing the UK.

He said that he would outline new measures which the government has been working on for several months.

He said the issue was a key one for voters, and should now be addressed by the government. "We need it to be a centrepiece of the next Queen's speech," he said. "We've got to change gear on this issue."

Another big issue during the conference will be fox-hunting. Thousands of pro-hunting activists are expected to descend on Bournemouth to protest at the government plans to ban the sport.

Mr Blair said that the government would nonetheless make time for a Parliamentary vote on whether there should be a ban.

And he criticised activists for suggesting that fox-hunting was the key issue facing rural voters.

"They're worried about the same things we are," he said. "They're worried about crime and drugs, schools, hospitals, jobs".

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