| Blair: Hard to go
London, Sept. 27: Tony Blair set Gordon Brown the challenge yesterday of matching his own political courage, leadership skills and personal rapport with the voters if he is to achieve his ambition of becoming British Prime Minister.
As he paid an emotional and highly personal farewell to the Labour Party conference, Blair paid tribute to the chancellor’s role in helping him create New Labour, but stopped well short of anointing him as his successor.
He warned Labour activists — who gave him a standing ovation at the start and end of his final conference speech as leader — that the party would lose power if it retreated to a “comfort zone” and abandoned his policies.
At times Blair appeared to struggle with his emotions as he admitted it was “hard to let go” but said it was right for the country and party that he did not “go on for ever”.
In a packed hall in Manchester some delegates were close to tears as Blair delivered one of the most dazzling speeches of his career, much of which he had written himself.
There was a sense of the end of an era, with nostalgic party activists coming to terms with losing a leader who had delivered a record three general election victories.
The bookmakers reacted by lengthening rather than shortening the odds on Labour winning a fourth term, claiming that Blair would be a hard act to follow and the door was now wide open to a “refreshed” Conservative Party led by David Cameron.
The Prime Minister disappointed his critics by not setting a timetable for his departure. Instead he said he would remain in No. 10 for the “coming months”, entrenching his reforms in health and education, putting immigration and law and order and trying to achieve a West Asia settlement.
A glum Brown looked on as Blair delivered a speech that outclassed the chancellor’s conference performance 24 hours earlier.
Like Brown, Blair acknowledged the tensions in their relationship — but surprised delegates by effectively confirming his wife Cherie could not stand her Downing Street neighbour.
Yesterday, she denied calling Brown a “liar” when he said it had been a privilege to work with the Prime Minister. Blair attempted to defuse the crisis by joking, “at least I don’t have to worry about her running off with the bloke next door”.