Blair predicts tough times in 2006
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Blair predicts tough times in 2006

Tony Blair said that new threats were coming Britain's way and big decisions on its future had to be made.

india Updated: Dec 31, 2005 12:40 IST

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saturday that new threats were coming Britain's way and big decisions on its future had to be made -- but people should be thankful to live in such a "great country".

In his New Year message nearly six months after London was hit by apparent Islamist suicide bombers, Blair vowed he would not "let our resolve slip" in the fight against terrorism.

Britain faces challenges that will affect the country's prosperity and security for the next half-century, Blair warned.

He also said there would be no let-up in British efforts to bring peace and democracy to Afghanistan.

Blair has pledged that 2006 will be one of his last years in office, but he faces potential revolts from his own centre-left Labour Party MPs on several key issues which he hopes will form his legacy -- rather than his decision to lead Britain into the war in Iraq.

On the day he became Britain's 10th-longest serving prime minister at eight years, 245 days in power, Blair said Britain would begin the New Year "in a strong position".

"Britain in 2006 will continue to be one of the most successful countries in the world with a strong economy and good public services. We live in a beautiful, prosperous country where most of us work hard and live decent, honest lives.

"In an age of rapid change, new challenges and threats will emerge constantly but we should always be grateful for what a great country Britain is."

He said domestic reform would be matched by the necessary international agenda "as we continue to fight terrorism and bring hope and democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We will not let our resolve slip to tackle the dangers we face, both at home, as so tragically illustrated on July 7, and abroad."

From controversial reforms on health and education to Britain's lingering military presence in Iraq, Blair has his work cut out convincing not just the country at large, but his own party in particular.

The once-unassailable Blair could face a humiliating defeat early in 2006 on proposed education reforms aimed at giving more power to schools.

Enough Labour MPs to scupper the scheme, mostly from the ruling party's left flank, have vowed not to back Blair's reforms.

The resurgent main opposition centre-right Conservatives, under youthful new leader David Cameron, could save Blair from defeat by backing him -- but only if his reforms go far enough for their taste, leaving him in just as awkward a position.

Blair said Britain could feel proud of its progress in the world in 2005, but tough domestic choices lay in store over the coming 12 months.

"Our achievements are being acknowledged across the globe, a fact recognised by the international community when we won the 2012 Olympics for London.

"But 2006 is a year in which critical decisions have to be got right if we are to sustain prosperity and fast-improving public services for the long term.

"On schools, local health services, pensions, welfare, the Respect agenda and energy, we face big choices which will decide how prepared we are for the challenges of the future.

"Meanwhile, in welfare, pensions and energy, we have to get right the decisions that will affect the prosperity and security of the people of Britain for the next 50 years.

"None will be easy, all will have to balance what is best for the future of the country with what is affordable now. But in each case, the decisions taken will affect the future for generations to come."

Blair has pledged not to stand for a fourth consecutive term as prime minister at the next general election, set for 2010 at the latest.

However, many pundits predict he will go well before an expected 2009 vote to give his successor, likely to be finance minister Gordon Brown, time to establish himself in the post.

Blair concluded: "The challenges we face are similar to those of every major developed nation in the world. But our capacity to meet them is well proven and 2006 will demonstrate this yet again."

First Published: Dec 31, 2005 12:40 IST