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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 February 2007, 13:31 GMT
Blair heads towards the end game
Tony Blair with interview Andrew Marr, right.

By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

With each interview he gives nowadays, Tony Blair manages, intentionally or otherwise, to drop little hints about his future plans and likely leaving date.

This time he denied claims he was "in denial" over his departure, insisting he was "happy to go" - he even managed a smile when he said it.

But, as is his habit, he was also eager to dismiss talk of a government in paralysis and show he was getting on with business, as voters would expect him to be.

A big part of that work - and this is where the hint about leaving dates came - was tackling climate change.

The prime minister claimed there was currently a real chance of a breakthrough with the agreement of stabilisation goals at the G8 summit in June.

Many believe he sees that breakthrough as part of his longed-for legacy.

He hinted himself during the interview that he wants to continue that work when he leaves office, saying that it was a key issue and he wanted to do something "with purpose" after he leaves Number 10.

'Clearing decks'

Mr Blair has pointed to the G8 meeting before, in a way that suggested he might see it as his international swansong.

There had been talk he would not make it until then, but he clearly not only believes he can, but fully intends to.

And there is some evidence to suggest his likely successor, Gordon Brown, is happy to go along with that timetable.

The current "clearing of the decks" before the handover includes difficult policies on, for example, nuclear power and the Trident missile system, which should give his successor a relatively clear run from day one.

The Greenpeace court victory may delay the first, but it is unlikely to derail it and land the controversial decision in Mr Brown's lap.


And, despite Mr Blair's refusal again to openly back Mr Brown or anyone else for that matter, he has said little recently to suggest his successor will be anyone other than the chancellor.

Then there is Iraq. Mr Blair revealed that operation Sinbad in Basra - aimed at clearing out insurgents and allowing local authorities to take control of security - has now been completed successfully and, apparently, on schedule.

That means the planned drawdown of British troops from the region should be able to get under way in the Spring.

The prime minister can be expected to give his promised Commons statement on that in the near future.

These developments allowed him to introduce a more optimistic note on Iraq, which is certain to be a major part of his legacy.

But Mr Blair also once again talked of the big jobs that awaited his successor on things like terrorism, the public services and education.

Off course

He denied that previous references to "bolting down" his legacy meant he wanted to tie his successor's hands on key polices.

But few doubt he is determined to ensure the reforms he has started continue under the next prime minister.

All this seems to confirm the sort of handover timetable that has now been talked about in Westminster for months - announcement after the May elections with a summer departure.

And, barring the traditional warning of the impact of events on any politician's plans, it is difficult to see anything on the horizon that could now blow it off course.

Tony Blair's Sunday AM interview

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