A PIECE of North-East political history, where prime ministers have enjoyed a pint and from where speeches have been broadcast around the world, is to close.

Trimdon Labour Club, where Tony Blair celebrated his three General Election victories, will shut next month, although the owners of the building will continue as a pub.

"I'm desperately sad that it has come to this, but at least we can walk out with our debts paid off and our heads held high, " said club secretary Paul Trippett. "We started in 1993 with a loan of £350 from the local Labour Party and we will probably go out with the same amount in the bank, but we've had a good time and got ourselves in the history books."

The Labour Party stepped in when Trimdon Working Men's Club, which had started with a single barrel of beer in a farmworker's cottage in 1919, folded.

The new Labour Club was opened by former party leader Neil Kinnock on July 9, 1993, and from the stage in its function room on June 11, 1994, Mr Blair announced he would stand for party leader. This was the club's debut on television and satellite trucks parked outside on the green, broadcasting speeches and celebrations, became a regular feature of its life.

On June 27, 2007, Mr Blair used its stage to announce that he was standing down as Prime Minister and MP, but the club's time in the spotlight was not over - only in March, MrBlair returned to deliver a stinging attack on the Conservatives in a bid to boost Gordon Brown's flagging fortunes.

In 1998, Mr Blair took French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to the club for a beer, and a year or so later he was relaxing in the club when the office phone rang.

Someone passing answered it and shouted: "Where's Tony Blair?"

"Over here, " replied the Prime Minister. "What is it?"

"Phone, " shouted the passer-by. "Bloke called Clinton.

Says he wants a word with you."

Now, though, the club is the latest victim of Britain's changing social scene.

"Ten pounds gets you four pints of lager in the club and 24 cans in the supermarket, " said Mr Trippett. "People say they'd love to come out, but they can't afford it."

The smoking ban and the decline in the pulling power of live football as people install satellite TV in their own homes are other factors.

"I reckon the VAT increase announced in the Budget will add another 7.5p to a pint in January, " said Mr Trippett.

Also on Budget day, Rita Welsh, who had been volunteer treasurer for 14 years, died. "She was one of the linchpins of the club and it has knocked the heart out of us, " said Mr Trippett.

The three full-time employees were told last night that it would close on July 22.

However, Calco, the pub company which owns the building, hopes to keep them on.

"People in Trimdon Village can rest assured that the facility will remain open, and any booked weddings or functions will go ahead, " said David Bates, Calco's operations manager. "We are seeking either a manager or an entrepreneurial tenant to take it forward. It is a superb facility.

"I haven't decided yet what to call it, but it will not have any connection with a political party."