Blair Gives Final Speech as Head of Labour British Prime Minister Tony Blair made his last speech as leader of the ruling Labour Party's annual convention. He had already announced that he will step down before next summer. He told party delegates that they must put aside their differences and support his successor if they want Labour to win the next general election, in 2009.
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Blair Gives Final Speech as Head of Labour

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Blair Gives Final Speech as Head of Labour

Blair Gives Final Speech as Head of Labour

Blair Gives Final Speech as Head of Labour

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British Prime Minister Tony Blair made his last speech as leader of the ruling Labour Party's annual convention. He had already announced that he will step down before next summer. He told party delegates that they must put aside their differences and support his successor if they want Labour to win the next general election, in 2009.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his last speech as leader to the ruling Labour Party's convention today. He told the Party Conference, as it's called in Britain, that Labour activists must put their differences behind them and focus on winning a fourth election. Blair has said he will step down as Labour Party leader, and thus prime minister, by next summer.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD: From the welcome he got today in Manchester, you wouldn't know that a party rebellion had just three weeks ago forced Tony Blair to set out a timeline for stepping down. One banner being waved in the conference hall read Too Young to Retire.

The 53-year-old Blair delivered the kind of rousing speech that has won him three elections. He went over the successes of the last 10 years - a strong economy, a reduction in child poverty, winning the 2012 Olympics, to name just a few. Take a step back and be proud, he said. This is a changed country. Then he focused on his own departure.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): The truth is you can't go on forever. That's why it's right that this is my last conference as leader. And of course it's hard to let go, but it's also right to let go for the country and for you, the party.

(Soundbite of applause)

GIFFORD: Blair offered warm praise for the man thought most likely to succeed him, Finance Minister Gordon Brown, with whom he's had a rocky relationship. Yesterday, Brown had delivered his own speech to the convention. He, like Blair, had said the party should stop obsessing about its internal politics and focus on policies that matter to the general public.

Mr. GORDON BROWN (Finance Minister, Great Britain): Where over these years differences have distracted from what matters, I regret that, and I know Tony does, too. I will never forget the only reason any of us is here is that we're in politics as servants of the people.

(Soundbite of applause)

GIFFORD: Blair today defended his close relationship with the United States but admitted it is sometimes difficult to be America's strongest ally. His support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq was, in the end, one of the reasons many previous supporters turned against him. But today, Blair warned against the continuing threat from terrorism before urging his party on to a fourth election victory.

The intellectual, middle class Tony Blair has always had something of a love/hate relationship with the Labour Party and especially its grassroots members in Britain's working class, who have sometimes resented his modernizing zeal. But there was no doubt today the emotion he felt as he said goodbye.

Prime Minister BLAIR: I'm always with you, head and heart. You've given me all I've ever achieved, and all that we've achieved together for the country. Next year, I won't be making this speech, but in the years to come, wherever I am, whatever I do, I'm with you.

(Soundbite of applause)

GIFFORD: The conference hall rose as one and gave Tony Blair a standing ovation, the most successful prime minister in the history of the Labour Party.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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