September 6, 2006

UK’s Blair “to be replaced” within a year

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Tony Blair will be replaced as British
Prime Minister by the end of July 2007, newspapers reported on
Wednesday, signaling the start of a leadership battle which
some fear may paralyze government for months.

Finance Minister Gordon Brown is widely expected to succeed
Blair as leader of the Labour Party and the country, and
several leading political figures said it was vital the two men
map out a joint leadership plan.

But others insist there must be a full, open leadership
contest which would pit Brown against potential contenders such
as Home Secretary John Reid, Education Secretary Alan Johnson,
or Environment Secretary David Miliband.

Two senior ministers and Blair allies have said this week
they expect the prime minister to be gone within a year.

Newspapers splashed Summer 2007 departure dates across
their front pages, saying Blair had caved in to increasing
pressure from Labour parliamentarians who had demanded a clear

The Sun tabloid said Blair would step down as Labour leader
on May 31 -- less than a month after his tenth anniversary in
office -- and would resign as prime minister eight weeks later
after an election to choose a party leader.

The Daily Telegraph hailed the start of "the long goodbye."

Blair's Downing Street office described the reports as
"speculation," but did not deny them.

"The real issue now is not so much the date but the process
of handover, the transition," David Blunkett, a former Home
secretary and key Blair ally told BBC television.

"That means both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as
international statesmen ...(should) work together," he said.


Blair, 53, winner of a record three consecutive elections
for Labour, has seen his popularity dive after a series of
government scandals over sleaze and mismanagement, as well as
controversy over wars in Iraq and Lebanon.

Opinion polls put Labour well behind the opposition
Conservatives, who have been revived by their new, youthful,
pro-environment leader, David Cameron.

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

Pressure piled on him on Tuesday to name a departure date
after a number of once-loyal Labour members of parliament
signed a letter calling on him to step down.

Media reports said the letter's signatories believe up to
100 Labour parliamentarians could use Labour's annual
conference this month to demand Blair publicly confirm his exit

The Guardian newspaper, seen as the established voice of
the centre-left, also urged Blair to make a departure date

"Blair cannot long continue as prime minister without
saying something much more explicit and much more politically
realistic and modest about his plans," it said in an editorial.

"There is a real danger that the whole mechanism of
government is being paralyzed," said Vincent Cable, spokesman
for economic affairs at Britain's Liberal Democrat Party.

"If you have a Prime Minister whose position is under a
great deal of uncertainty, the possibility of a protracted
leadership campaign, the country is rudderless and leaderless."

For FACTBOX on potential contenders click on

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton)