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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2007, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Tony Blair's Sedgefield send-off
By Laura Kuenssberg
Political correspondent, BBC News, at Trimdon Labour Club

Was it a tear? Maybe not quite, but there was certainly a watery shine in the prime minister's eyes.

Tony Blair addresses supporters
Mr Blair said a decade in power had been enough for him

His mission today: to tell the country when, finally, he would leave office.

His chosen location - no surprises - was the Trimdon Labour Club.

These simple surroundings in Tony Blair's constituency were host to the launch of his leadership campaign in 1994.

They've seen countless election-night parties and a slightly disbelieving French president, Jacques Chirac, on a visit to Mr Blair's patch.

But today the moment was all the prime minister's. The stage where he had once played the guitar was set for him to name the day.

Celebratory mood

This was no impromptu farewell party. The event began with the usual New Labour organisation - names ticked off a list, everyone given a red sticker once they'd been checked.

But inside the hall, before the prime minister arrived, the mood was of celebration. It was rather like an office party, waiting for the free bar to open.

Labour organisers clapped and whooped to the music, encouraging the ranks of County Durham grannies and babies to join in. And they did.

A placard thanks Tony Blair for 10 years in power
Mr Blair will formally stand down as Labour's leader on 27 June
For 30 minutes or so before Mr Blair appeared, there was a strange scene.

Po-faced Westminster hacks at the back of the room; clapping and cheering Labour activists at the front; and a cabal of Mr Blair's staff, smiling but not looking quite sure what to do.

Then, just in time for the news channels to run their headline sequences at noon, he made his entrance.

Placards were hoisted up: "Tony rocks", "We love you Tony", "Three-nil" - presumably referring to his unrivalled three election victories as Labour leader.

Warm cheers for the prime minister, and no doubt he was playing to the most benevolent crowd in the country.


"It's long enough for me and long enough for the country," he said. Even this crowd of his most ardent fans accept that now.

Mr Blair listed the ways in which he believed he had changed the country for the better. The audience nodded in agreement.

Tony Blair hugs a loyal supporter
Well-wishers gathered to greet the prime minister ahead of his speech
But then the sticky part - Iraq.

The prime minister knows for many people that what he described today as "the blowback" - the death and destruction in Iraq since the invasions - will be his legacy.

He didn't apologise for that today, although for a small section, perhaps the audience believed he might.

He pleaded with the millions who will see one soundbite in particular.

"Hand on heart, I did what I believed was right," he said.

This audience certainly believed him, although, as wherever Tony Blair goes, there was a smattering of anti-war protesters outside.

But here the reception was warm and eager. They don't mind about Iraq.

They know he has to go, they know now he's on his way, but for the audience in Sedgefield at least, they're desperately glad that he was here.

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