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Wednesday, 12 July, 2000, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Blair moves back to substance
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair believes he can win back the political agenda
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

As relaunches go, Tony Blair's had as much razzmatazz as the launching of a pedalo off Skegness - but that was the point.

The prime minister held a news conference in the opulent, but decidedly forbidding surroundings of the state dining room in Downing Street with the express aim of getting the agenda off fluff and spin, and firmly onto weight and substance.

He naturally slapped down any suggestion this was a relaunch, simply stating he was there because he believed it was important to highlight the government's successful economic record, particularly on jobs.

And he ensured he did exactly that, pointing to the strength of the economy, the imminent likelihood of full employment - although he failed to define what that meant - the clearing of the government deficit and the declining bill for welfare.

He went on to insist that the government was now ready to take the second step of investing more in education, health, transport, science and technology, and law and order.

And he fuelled speculation that next week's comprehensive spending review will see Chancellor Gordon Brown significantly loosening his purse strings.

No snap poll

He did drop in the fact that he has no intention of calling a general election this October and, referring to his son Euan's night on the tiles, he declared: "There have been some personal difficulties and what not."

But he resisted the temptation to be drawn further into any analysis of his recent troubles, denying he had suffered an "annus horibilis" and stating only: "These things happen to governments from time to time, the important thing is to concentrate on getting the fundamentals right."

Asked if he had been feeling the strain of late, he replied with a smile: "No, I think I am fine. Thank you very much for asking though."

And later, during question time, he went on to prove the point by giving a markedly better performance than last week's fumbled clash with William Hague.

He had the Tories' u-turn on their tax guarantee as a powerful weapon, and he took every opportunity to use it and ridicule the opposition for making worthless pledges.

His backbenchers, who had clearly been primed for the occasion, delighted in his performance and most believed he had, for once, bested Mr Hague.

The whole day was about Mr Blair getting away from the recent buffeting he has suffered over spin and lack of delivery, and proving he still knows exactly where he is heading and that he is not going to be blown off course by a few squalls.

And, at the morning press conference, there were no New Labour-style stunts or spin - unless that can itself be counted as spin - other than hammering home the positive message.

Dreadful summer

It is something the prime minister has done before and there is a general perception that he is often at his best with these sort of informal occasions.

Inevitably, many saw the event as the opening shot in the next general election campaign, and it will be followed by a series of personal appearances in the Commons where Mr Blair will attempt to get the government off the back foot.

With only two weeks to go before the Commons breaks up for its summer recess, he is eager to lift the current gloom hanging over his troops and send them off on their holidays with a spring in their step.

He clearly believes he has it in his power to draw a line under his dreadful summer and get back onto his own agenda.

The next few days will be a crucial test of that belief.

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See also:

12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Blair denies 'annus horribilis'
12 Jul 00 | Business
UK unemployment falls
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