Blair: I will finish what I’ve started

Tony Blair has rejected suggestions that his authority is waning in his last few months as prime minister, insisting he wants to “finish what I’ve started” before he quits.

He said he was “getting on with the job” of running the country and argued that far from running out of steam, his government had a “strong and energetic agenda”.

The prime minister also confirmed he would remain at No 10 long enough to lead Labour into the Scottish and Welsh elections in May, although he did not give any further details on when he planned to resign.

Mr Blair’s authority has been hit in recent weeks by a series of cabinet ministers deviating from the official government line, whether in campaigning against NHS reforms in their areas, speaking out on gay rights laws or about Britain’s relationship with the US.

But he told BBC One’s Politics Show yesterday: “You measure authority by getting things done.and the very reason we’ve got a lot of these issues at the moment on our plate, like this big health service business, is precisely because we are pushing [the agenda] forward.”

He said the last 18 months had “been our most radical, most bold on the domestic agenda”, and stressed that he intended to see through many of these changes himself.

“I won an election in May 2005 and we’ve been through all this stuff about you know, fighting the full term [in office] or not the full term and so on, and I’m getting on with the job. I want to finish what I’ve started, if I can put it like that,” he said.

“And at the present time, there are things that I’m right in the middle of doing, whether it’s health service reform or the city academy programme, or the changes that we’re making in the Home Office or, this issue to do with energy policy or the international issues you’ve just been discussing – I’m getting on with the job.

“I know there’s a sort of desire, perhaps the media want to get on to the new story, but I was elected to do a job and I’m doing it.”

Mr Blair dismissed claims that his authority was threatened by about a dozen of his ministerial team – including home secretary John Reid, Labour party chairwoman Hazel Blears and health minister Ivan Lewis – fighting NHS reforms in their constituencies.

He insisted they were all campaigning on issues that had not yet resulted in local decisions, saying: “It’s a new doctrine of collective responsibility to me that an MP, who happens to be a minister, can’t participate in a local consultation.”

The prime minister also downplayed Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain’s criticism of the US administration, saying: “Shock horror headline, someone in the Labour party doesn’t agree with neo-Cons.”

Mr Blair refused to endorse Gordon Brown as his successor, saying he would not talk about the issue until the “moment of my departure, because that is the appropriate time and place”.