Blair: Go on to win without me

Tony Blair today urged Labour members to go out and win a fourth general election, telling the party “I’m with you” even if he was not leading them.

The prime minister urged activists to forget the polls that show Labour is falling behind the Conservatives and “make your own luck” to take a fourth term.

“Enough talk of hung parliaments. The next election won’t be about image unless we let it be,” he told delegates in Manchester.

“It’ll be about who has the strength, judgment, weight and ideas for Britain’s future in an uncertain world. And we do.”

Mr Blair’s speech comes after weeks of infighting in the Labour party, which forced him against his wishes to announce he would resign within a year.

Today he accepted this was for the best, saying: “Of course it’s hard to let go. But it is also right to let go, for the country, and for you the party.” And he said he wanted to “heal” the party, starting by building bridges with Gordon Brown.

The chancellor’s speech to conference yesterday was overshadowed by reports that Cherie Blair had dismissed him as a liar. Mr Blair joked: “At least I know she isn’t going to run off with the guy next door.”

He praised Mr Brown as a “remarkable man “, and said New Labour – and its three electoral victories – would not have happened without him.

However, the majority of the speech was devoted to a warning for the future that Labour must not abandon its reformist principles.

He admitted that ten years ago he would have opposed some of the policies his government was now considering, such as a ban on junk food, nuclear power and the climate change levy.

But the prime minister said: “The danger in all of this, for us, is not ditching New Labour. The danger is failing to understand that New Labour in 2007 won’t be New Labour in 1997.”

Nine years ago, New Labour had provided the answer to a country “aching for change” and the party must now have the courage to do this again for the 21st century. “Courage is our friend – caution, our enemy,” he added.

Mr Blair claimed the party in government was never going to be popular, warning: “Don’t ignore the polls but don’t be paralysed by them either.”

There was “no rule” that the Tories had to come back, he said, telling the party: “My advice – get after them.”

David Cameron’s plans to pull out of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European parliament and his anti-American rhetoric “is not a policy worthy of a prime minister”, Mr Blair said. He went on to attack the Tory leader’s tax and spending plans, and his law and order agenda.

“If we can’t take this lot apart in the next few years we shouldn’t be in the business of politics at all,” he said to loud applause.

The prime minister finished on a personal note, dismissing suggestions that he did not like the Labour party, adding: “There’s only one tradition I ever hated – losing.”

He urged delegates: “You’ve given me all I’ve ever achieved, and all that we’ve ever achieved, together, for the country..You’re the future now. Make the most of it.”

One delegate, Rosemary Roome from Bedford Kempston, was in tears when she left the auditorium.

“He is the greatest prime minister we have ever had and it will be a hard job to follow him.We’re going to miss him, but as he said, he’ll be with us,” she said.