Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Tony Blair to stay on for full third term"

I don't normally feel sorry for Sunday newspaper hacks, but this past fortnight I did. By the Friday night, they would have all written at least two or three thousand words on Labour's week by the seaside, having spent much of it themselves in an alcoholic haze. Most of their "insight" pieces will no doubt have been about the ongoing Brown-Blair saga, most of it made up or spun for them.

When Alastair Campbell and I were still talking to each other, we used to enjoy inventing "background" stories for the eager Sunday hacks. As far as I can tell, little has changed since we both left.

On 30 September, when Tony Blair generously decided to tell us about his plans for himself, the Westminster scribes had to delete all their copy and start again from scratch, and No 10 had to work overtime to fill in the gaps. Things got so desperate that the Prime Minister even had to do some of the spinning himself.

To a large extent, Blair's scamboli worked. He seems to have guaranteed his position as Labour leader into the next election, which is pretty important, considering how large his mortgage must be. The Blairs' homebuying extravagance reminded me of the time Gordon Brown told Blair that he and other members of the cabinet would have to forgo a pay increase. "You can tell Cherie!" he barked.

There is no way Blair will stay for a "full term". One of his most memorable lines, and there haven't been many, was when he told the party conference that he knew they liked him only because he could win. Once Labour has won the next election, which it will despite him, why on earth

would anyone want to keep him as leader?

Blair's statement may have done the trick for now, but that's all it was - a trick.

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The gambler