September 6, 2006

Blair may resign next July

By Peter Graff

LONDON (Reuters) - Tony Blair will leave office on July 26,
the Sun newspaper reported in its Wednesday edition, as the
increasingly unpopular prime minister faced growing pressure to
quit from within his own Labour Party.

The report comes a day after a top Blair ally said the
prime minister would probably leave office within a year.

The Sun said Blair would step down as head of the Labour
Party on May 31, less than a month after his tenth anniversary
in office. He would resign as prime minister eight weeks later,
after an election to choose a successor as party leader,
expected to be his finance minister, Gordon Brown.

Blair, winner of a record three consecutive elections for
Labour, has already said he will not stand for a fourth term.

His popularity has plunged after a series of government
scandals over sleaze and mismanagement, as well as controversy
over the Iraq war. Opinion polls put Labour well behind the
opposition Conservatives -- resurgent under their youthful,
pro-environment leader David Cameron.

Blair's office declined to comment on the Sun story: "We
have no intention of commenting on any speculation of the
timetable," a spokeswoman said.

The right-leaning tabloid, Britain's largest-selling daily
newspaper, has a reputation for accurate political scoops.

"It's been known to me for some time that the prime
minister has had a date in mind, and we've been working hard on
it," political editor George Pascoe-Watson told Sky News

"We've actually been able to nail down the date that he has
put in his diary."

Blair has said he would leave enough time for a transition
to his successor, but has angered many in his party by refusing
to name the date he would leave.

The speculation reached a fever pitch over the past 24
hours after newspapers reported that once-loyal Labour members
of parliament had signed a letter calling on Blair to step

Environment Minister David Miliband, a loyal Blair ally,
responded on Tuesday by suggesting he would be gone within a
year, remarks taken as authorized by Blair.

Blair, 53, won his first term on May 1, 1997. A decade in
power would leave him a year short of Margaret Thatcher's
record as the longest-serving prime minister in more than a

Pascoe-Watson said he believed Brown was aware of the date
planned for the transfer and was keen that Blair should make it

"The interesting question is whether or not the chancellor
knew privately of the date, and I believe the chancellor did
know of the prime minister's intentions to leave during this
timetable. I think the chancellor would like the prime minister
to say this in his own words."