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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 September 2006, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Blair's emotional farewell
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News Website

They all knew this was going to be Tony Blair's last conference speech as British prime minister - that this was to be Labour Party history in the making.

But this was the moment it really hit home.

Tony Blair
Blair couldn't hide the emotion
The most successful Labour prime minister ever was at the Manchester conference to say his farewells.

So, inevitably, there were tears around the hall - and the man himself seemed pretty emotional. The first catch in his voice came as he declared: "The truth is, you can't go on forever."

And there was no mistaking that the prime ministerial eyes had filled up as he ended with: "You are the future now, make the most of it."

Attempted coup

It was not the way Mr Blair had wanted to go. He had planned for at least another year before having to deliver this most difficult of speeches.

This was the performance of a prime minister who had been forced into early retirement after an attempted coup by some of his own party, and who was still coming to terms with it.

It was the biggest platform he is likely to get to write his own political obituary - and he seized it in defiant terms.

He claimed the past decade as his, and attempted to lay claim to the future with advice to his party on how to continue his New Labour reforms to win the fourth election victory which, he insisted, was the only thing he wanted as his legacy.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
No offer of support for Brown as leader

On the issue which many believe will actually stand as his enduring legacy - the war on Iraq - there was little, other than within the context of the war on terror and to say 11 September came long before that invasion had even been thought of.

On the actual timing of his departure, there was nothing, other than a reference to "months".

And on whether his "remarkable" chancellor Gordon Brown should be his natural successor as prime minister, there was nothing, other than expressions of respect and a joke about their relationship.

Core values

What there was included an impassioned rebuttal of all those Old Labour taunts about Tory Tony.

It was he who had acted out of genuine Labour principle, stuck to its core values and "abandoned the ridiculous, self-imposed dilemma between principle and power".

His controversial public service reforms, for example, were about putting Labour principles into practice not privatising them.

He spelt out just how he believed New Labour had changed Britain for the better, defied conventional political wisdom and, as a result, changed it.

On the future, he had plenty of advice for his successor and the party. It all amounted to one thing, however, remain New Labour and develop it further to meet changed circumstances.

Rock and roll

There were undoubtedly those in the audience who were immune to his charm - and this was without doubt one of his most effective conference speeches - and who believed he was attempting to re-write history and exert undue influence on his successor.

They saw the speech as his attempt to finally bury Old Labour and embed "Blairism" in the party.

But they pretty much kept their views to themselves - even offering some admiration for the manner of his going.

For the most part, however, the conference seemed to want this to be his day and to allow him the dignity they believe he deserves in his final time in office. They even gave him a rock and roll send-off and encore.

But it all raised the next questions. How on earth, after all this, can he simply return to Downing Street and carry on governing Britain for the next nine months as if nothing has changed?

And will this conference performance, with its note of finality, end all the leadership wrangling that has marked the past weeks, including the conference itself, and allow that stable and orderly transition he has demanded?

The greatest fear for Tony Blair must be that, once the emotion has passed, all his advice will be forgotten and the party will quickly move on to the battle over his replacement.




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