Drive of a Prime Minister

PUBLISHED: 23:50 31 May 2002 | UPDATED: 12:01 03 March 2010

Prime Minister Tony Blair took time out in Suffolk after a whirlwind week in which he breathed new life into Labour's dream for a better Britain. After changing his Cabinet and heading out East to see some great local success stories, he met up with Evening Star editor NIGEL PICKOVER .

Prime Minister Tony Blair took time out in Suffolk after a whirlwind week in which he breathed new life into Labour's dream for a better Britain. After changing his Cabinet and heading out East to see some great local success stories, he met up with Evening Star editor NIGEL PICKOVER ... for an hour's chat and a cuppa.

BACK to the business he loves best, the breakneck world of British politics.

Out of the shark tank of the capital and into the safer waters of the shire counties - that was Premier Blair last night ... relaxed and in firm control after one of the toughest few days in his leadership of our country.

Just hours after losing one of his great political allies, the maligned yet accident-prone Transport supremo Stephen Byers, Mr Blair took in the refreshing air of a sunny Ipswich evening.

It was as if the rough and tumble of this tumultuous week has evaporated in the slipstream of the Anglia Railways train that had brought him (first class and bang on time!) into our county.

Our forthright conversation was open, frank, detailed, good-humoured and, we agreed, "off the record." This was understandable after a day of relentless interviews from newspapers, radio and TV stations, including our own political editor.

But whilst there are no quotes in this article, I've allowed myself the space to give readers an update on the state in which I found one of the most important men in the world.

We met in one of the discreet suites of the Swallow Belstead Brook Hotel, swiftly arranged by affable Belstead manager James Jude and his team. Over tea and, later, iced water, Mr Blair showed his hunger for sweeping reforms to make Britain better - and some frustration that change often takes so much time to bed in.

He's not lost his boyish sense of humour, either. I presented him with a classic Evening Star front page - our award-winning Toony Blair special produced after his hand-written letter in which he made repeated spelling gaffes on the word tomorrow, writing it as toomorrow.

The Prime Minister, it can be revealed, took my gift in good part. Colleague Paul Geater was earlier told that the Blair children often tease dad about his error - one it had taken him several days to own up to during the Ipswich by-election last year.

As we spoke, the Premier was wafted by the warming air of a late Spring evening, with a weeping willow forming a background outside the open doors of his suite-cum-meeting room. But there was little time for crying over any spilled political milk.

Without giving any detail, I can reveal that ground we covered - at pace and in detail - include issues of crime, education, reform of the criminal justice system, the health service, local industry and success stories, the plight of Ipswich Town and the success of Newcastle United and, of course, the political hot potato of our time, transport.

No ground was forbidden, no question rebuffed.

What comes over is the amount of detail he knows about the patch he is in. He is well-briefed and takes it in.

Mr Blair was warm in his appreciation for the work of the regional press (my newspaper's front page apart!) and remains short of good temper for the knife-wielding agendas of sections of the national press.

For some, the Prime Minister is a figure to disparage, to others he is a hero.

But what cannot be denied is his determination take New Labour into a great era of success. In the first term in Government, huge energy was used to set up a brighter world for education and, hopefully, for health. Much hard work done, much to do still, yet some green shoots are showing, was the message of the day.

The second term has now has its first year - and there's lots more to do. Transport has been a huge issue - and will not be sorted out immediately.

But, crucially, for the man with the wide grin and strong handshake, there's lots of juice left in the tank - love him or loathe him.

So much so, that the third term is an issue distantly over the horizon. No clues as to the plans, but you just know who will lead Labour into battle against the partly-rejuvenated Tories. So, keep your Number 10 dreams on hold for a while yet, Mr Brown.

Mr Blair came over to me as:

Determined - he believed he has only just begun to realise some of New Labour's dreams

Resilient - the knives are there, but that's politics, folks.

Hungry - second and third terms are in his nostrils.

Sharp - he is very knowledgeable and has avoided the "politician's glaze" of disinterest.

Hopeful - that Alastair Darling will get the time and support to win the Transport battle

We finished with hopes that our beloved Ipswich Town will have more luck next year - after the relegation of 2001/2002.

I have one hope for the man with Britain's toughest job - that he takes time out, this Jubilee Holiday, for a good long rest. Mr Blair appeared a little tired from his recent exertions and could do with, as they say in the Sunday morning trade, with a good long lie-in - and breakfast in bed. How about that this Sunday, Cherie .. waking up TB, at, say, 10.00am ...just in time for Sweden's Beckham-led humiliation in the Far East?

Whatever your political persuasion, Mr Blair is a consummate politician and one who knows a great deal about our area, our hopes and our dreams. Now we await Ian Duncan Smith's visit, and that of Charles Kennedy, when they come, with interest. When these leaders arrive we'll give them the same space - and rate them in exactly the same way.

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