Blair says he’ll stay until June

Tony Blair has given the clearest sign yet of when he plans to leave Downing Street, stating that he intends to attend a European summit at the end of June.

The prime minister announced in September that he would quit within a year, and commentators had predicted he would quit soon after the elections in Scotland and Wales in May, and just days after he celebrate ten years as premier on May 1st.

Mr Blair began his monthly press conference today by fending off questions about the Labour leadership, as usual. But when asked whether he would attend the European Union summit in Brussels on June 21st, he replied frankly: “Of course.”

Gordon Brown is currently favourite to take over as prime minister. Left-wing backbencher John McDonnell is the only person who has pledged to stand against him, and it not yet clear if he will get the necessary 44 nominations from Labour MPs.

However, several senior party members, including Mr Blair himself, have warned that Labour must renew itself in office if it is to have a chance of winning the next election.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph today, environment minister David Miliband – himself tipped as a future Labour leader – warned that after ten years in power, the party “needs to defy political gravity to win the next election”.

He said: “My fear was always that Labour would lose the spirit of insurgency that propelled it to power in 1997, and become defenders of the status quo. The way out is through ideas, and 2007 needs to be the year of ideas for Labour.”

Speaking to reporters this lunchtime, the prime minister said he endorsed this view, but expressed confidence about the “healthy debate” about future policy that was currently taking place across government.

He also stressed the importance of keeping to New Labour ideas and forging ahead with the reform of public services. Crucial to this are the six policy groups set up by Mr Blair last year, which will set out how the party intends to meet new challenges.

“I believe that providing we hold our nerve on the reform programme and go to new New Labour and don’t in any sense retreat then we will come through this, and we will come through it with a renewed sense of leadership and energy and drive that we need,” he said.

“One of the things I believe is really important about the policy review programme is it’s developed real enthusiasm across government.

“The healthy debate about forward policy is actually happening there, and I don’t notice some great critique coming [from opposition parties] that worries me.”