Skip to comments.Blair: I'll Quit Next Year - Trust Me
Posted on 05/08/2006 9:03:48 PM PDT by blam
Blair: I'll quit next year - trust me
By George Jones, Political Editor and Brendan Carlin
Tony Blair abandoned his election promise to serve a full third term last night, indicating that he could stand down next summer.
Although he refused to set a timetable for his departure, saying that it would paralyse government, he anointed Gordon Brown as his successor and promised to give him sufficient time to establish himself before the next election.
Tony Blair was in no mood for compromise yesterday
As the Labour Party stood on the brink of civil war over the timing of the succession, the Prime Minister acknowledged that he could not go on to the end of his third term, which could last until 2009 or even 2010. He appealed to the party to calm down and trust him to "honour" his commitment to ensure a stable and orderly transition, "with the time plainly needed for my successor to establish himself".
At a packed meeting of Labour MPs at Westminster, Mr Blair spoke of allowing his successor "ample" time, saying that he wanted his legacy to be a "fourth term for Labour".
One of the MPs present said he expected Mr Blair to hand over to Mr Brown at the party conference in the autumn of 2007, giving the new leader 18 months to prepare for the next election. Although some MPs were critical of Mr Blair, party officials said the majority had been reassured by his promise to allow "plenty of time" for his successor.
During last year's election campaign, Mr Blair repeatedly denied that he would quit after a couple of years and said he would serve a full four-year term. Since then, his supporters in Cabinet have insisted that that was still his intention and that he was staying on to allow time for an alternative to Mr Brown to emerge.
David Cameron, the Tory leader, said Mr Blair had lost his authority and that Labour was in a state of civil war. He said the Government was out of control, "running out of steam, ideas, divided from top to bottom", and "the sooner Mr Blair goes the better".
Mr Blair used his monthly Downing Street press conference and the meeting with his backbenchers to confront growing demands for him to make way for Mr Brown this summer after Labour's dismal showing in last week's English local elections.
No 10 had claimed at the weekend that rebel Labour MPs were planning a coup to oust him. But Mr Blair accepted that those calling on him to agree on a timetable for standing down were not only his Left-wing critics but included mainstream, normally loyal, MPs.
Mr Blair said he had no intention of "going on and on and on". But naming a date for his resignation now "would not end this distraction but take it to a new level", he said. "To state a timetable now would simply paralyse the proper working of government, put at risk the necessary changes we are making for Britain and damage the country."
Mr Blair said some of those MPs demanding that he should quit now wanted to abandon New Labour reforms and take the party to the Left.
"That way lies not a fourth-term victory but a defeat and a return to opposition and I will fight that all the way."
His promise to ensure a stable and orderly transition was welcomed by supporters of Mr Brown but they said they did not trust Mr Blair to stick to it. They said the Prime Minister had yet to consult the Chancellor on key policies and appointments affected by the transition.
Mr Brown was angry that in last Friday's reshuffle Mr Blair appointed a new party chairman, Hazel Blears, a leading Blairite, with a brief to reform the party in the approach to the next election, without talking to him first.
Mr Blair reaffirmed that Mr Brown was still his choice to succeed him, saying that the Chancellor was "New Labour to his fingertips". But he said the party would lose support if it became too preoccupied with internal battles.
He sought to dispel any suggestion that he was becoming a lame duck Prime Minister by setting out what he termed a "busy Government agenda", including pensions reform, a review of energy policy and reforms of the NHS and schools. All are likely to be well advanced next year, enabling him to say that his legacy is secure.
After the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, a spokesman for rebel MPs who have been pushing for a timetable said: "We have been eyeball to eyeball with the Prime Minister and he has just blinked."
Others left unhappy that Mr Blair had not given more detail, even though two MPs, Andrew Smith and Geraldine Smith, demanded to know what "sufficient and ample time" meant. Mrs Smith, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said she had not received an answer.
Now if only Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would make the same promise.