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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Blair marks decade of power
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

It is a pretty fair bet this was not the way Tony Blair expected to mark a decade in power - announcing he would be resigning within days and anointing Gordon Brown his successor.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
Mr Blair is expected to officially back Mr Brown as leader
But, as his 10 year reign was being assessed by his friends and foes alike, that is precisely what the prime minister felt he needed to do.

Speculation over his departure date has been running rife, with claims his refusal to be more specific were damaging his party's prospects in the local elections.

He did not want to make his big announcement before the polls - and remove Mr Brown's shield against the results - but he must have thought it necessary to do what he could to limit the "Blair factor" from the elections.

And that speaks volumes for the current state of his leadership. The "Blair factor" - the phenomenon that powered New Labour to historic election victories, starting with the "new dawn" in 1997 - is now a negative force, something to neutralise.

Even his allies, while celebrating his 10 years' of achievements, were finding it difficult to deny that reality.

They, however, believe history will be far kinder to the prime minister than his critics and voters are currently being.

10 out of 10

Even political rivals, former Tory minister Michael Portillo and ex-Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, added to that view, which suggests that, while Iraq will be Mr Blair's short-term legacy, the longer view will concentrate on other factors.

Peter Mandelson
Mr Mandelson praised prime minister's record
And there was no shortage of friends - from Gordon Brown down - ready to use the 10th anniversary celebrations to heap praise onto their most electorally successful leader ever.

Mr Brown, now looking like a shoo-in to the leadership, gave Mr Blair 10 out of 10 for his decade in power, declaring that, when historians looked back at the period, they would see: "Some of the most memorable moments and achievements in our post-war history."

In return, the prime minister moved closer than ever, in remarks in Scotland, to giving Mr Brown his endorsement - the official statement is expected to come at the time of his resignation announcement.

And John Prescott told cheering Labour staff at a headquarters celebration that the prime minister had presided over a "decade of delivery".

Perhaps his closest ally and friend, ex-minister, ex-spin doctor and soon-to-be-ex-EU commissioner Peter Mandelson, praised the prime minister's record.

Lasting legacy

But along with Mr Prescott and the prime minister himself, he touched on the issue that has undoubtedly done Mr Blair the most damage - insisting the decision to go to war on Iraq was right.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair was cheered at party headquarters

And that, needless to say, is still the unavoidable issue. The only debate is over whether it will provide that lasting legacy for good or ill. Or will those other achievements eventually overcome the Iraq issue?

Mr Blair and his allies will spend the next weeks hammering home those achievements - the minimum wage, record spending on health, transformation of education, economic growth, low inflation, low unemployment, The Northern Ireland peace deal, even successful campaigns in Kosovo and Sierra Leone.

Indeed, there is every sign the prime minister is engaged in exactly the sort of farewell campaign mapped out in a leaked memo earlier this year in which aides claimed they wanted him to go leaving the crowds cheering for more.

That may appear a formidable task at the moment, but in the period between his final resignation announcement and the day he leaves Downing Street there will be plenty of tributes and reassessments of the Blair decade.

His allies are undoubtedly hoping, once the current "Blair factor" has evaporated a more considered and, they believe, positive image will emerge.

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