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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
It's hard to let go, admits Blair
Tony Blair

Tony Blair admitted "it's hard to let go" as he used his last Labour conference speech as leader to urge the party to unite and win a fourth term.

He won a long standing ovation, telling an emotional Labour gathering: "You're the future now, make the most of it."

Winning the next election was the only legacy he had ever wanted, he said.

He praised Gordon Brown and laughed off his wife's alleged criticism: "At least I don't have to worry about her running off with the bloke next door."

Brown's disappointment

Mr Brown offered an olive branch to Mr Blair in his conference speech on Monday when he said it had been a privilege to serve under his premiership.

But that carefully-crafted attempt at reconciliation was marred by reports that Cherie Blair had called the comment a lie - something she has denied.

SPEECH BRIEFING
Tony and Cherie Blair
Length: One hour, one minute
Standing ovation: 9mins 13 secs - and clapping during a 4 minute film while he was off stage
Best joke: "I mean, I don't have to worry about Cherie running off with the bloke next door."
Instant reaction: Former minister Geoffrey Robinson: "It was a great send off, absolutely amazing, now we got to learn to get on without him."
Nick Assinder's verdict: "No doubt this was the speech of a man on the way out, but reluctant to let go of the future."

Mr Blair's speech came after ex-minister Peter Mandelson said Gordon Brown had never reconciled himself to Mr Blair being leader instead of him.

The prime minister, who received a rapturous ovation as he left the stage, said: "The truth is you can't go on forever, that's why it is right that this is my last conference as leader.

"Of course it is hard to let go. But it is also right to let go. For the country, and for you, the party.

"Over the coming months, I will take through the changes I have worked on so hard these past years.

"And I will help build a unified party with a strong platform for the only legacy that has ever mattered to me - a fourth term election victory that allows us to keep changing Britain for the better.

"And I want to heal. There has been a lot of talk of lies and truths these past few weeks."

Praise for Brown

As Mr Brown did in his speech, Mr Blair admitted there had been difficulties in their relationship.

"But I know New Labour would never have happened and three election victories would never have been secured without Gordon Brown," he said.

LABOUR WEEK AHEAD
TUESDAY: Blair's keynote speech. Also taking to the platform are Margaret Beckett and Ruth Kelly
WEDNESDAY: Alan Johnson, David Miliband, Patricia Hewitt all take to the platform and Bill Clinton is the guest speaker
THURSDAY: John Reid, Peter Hain and John Prescott all take to the stage

"He is a remarkable man, a remarkable servant to this country - and that is the truth."

With the Conservatives ahead in the opinion polls, Mr Blair urged people to remember there were three years until the next election.

"Don't ignore the polls but don't be paralysed by them either," he said.

He rejected the old claims that he was a "closet Tory" himself.

"They say I hate the party and its traditions," he said. "I don't. I love this party. There's only one tradition I ever hated: it was losing."

'Terrorism message'

Mr Blair used the speech to trumpet the achievements of his government in raising standards in education, health and cutting crime.

And he gave a robust defence of his under-fire foreign policy, although he only made a passing mention to the Iraq war as he spoke about the victims of terrorism.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson
Today, Tony Blair made it easy for his party to move on
BBC political editor Nick Robinson

He warned that the terrorism threat facing the UK would last for "a generation and more" and people must not surrender to "enemy propaganda".

"This terrorism is not our fault, we didn't cause it," he said. "It's not the consequence of foreign policy, it's an attack on our way of life."

The prime minister promised to dedicate himself from now until he stepped down to advancing peace between Israel and Palestine - something which would be a defeat for terrorism.

Mr Blair's advice for the next election from his "hot seat" was that Labour had to meet the challenge of global changes - getting the balance right between openness and security and also continuing reforms to public services.

"The danger in all this, for us, is not ditching New Labour. The danger is failing to understand that New Labour in 2007 won't be New Labour in 1997," he said.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Analysis of Mr Blair's speech



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