The Drum Beats Again for Blair
Is Tony Blair finished?
That's the question the British media are asking amid speculation that the Prime Minister will soon resign or be forced from office.
The Economist says he should "quit while he is ahead." The Daily Telegraph, citing "members of his inner circle," reported last week that Blair would announce his resignation by Christmas. The Prime Minister, says the Financial Times, is in danger of finding himself "in office but not in power."
All of which means nothing, says Blair. On Monday the prime minister dismissed the speculation as "a soap opera," a view shared by The Times. A blogger for the liberal Guardian suggests "a bored and restless media" is hyping a non-story to boost readership.
But while speculation about Blair stepping down has bubbled up before, most recently in 2003, "the latest round of more serious speculation" is founded in grass roots discontent in the Labor Party, according to The Independent.
Across the country, Labor activists "are beginning to ask whether the leader who delivered three election victories is becoming a liability to the party," writes political editor Marie Woolf.
In 1990 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was forced from the job after more than 11 years in power when the Conservative Party rebelled against her leadership.
Pundits wondered last month if a similar rebellion might be afoot when 52 Labor MPs opposed Blair's plan introduce "trust schools" (comparable to U.S. charter schools) and other market-driven educational reforms. Blair had to rely on Conservative Party votes to win approval.
Recent news reports portray Blair's top aides in an "unprecedented" war of press leaks ("briefings" in the British political jargon) with aides of Gordon Brown, the treasury secretary who has been waiting in the wings for years to succeed Blair.
An informal committee, composed of representatives of the two factions, had been conferring regularly to formulate long-term plans for the transition from Blair to Brown, according to the Independent. "But in an ominous development for Labour, the committee has not met for several weeks."
All the while, Iraq lurks in the background. Blair's policy of supporting the U.S. invasion and reconstruction is more unpopular than ever, with even the once pro-war Daily Telegraph now calling for the swift withdrawal of British troops.
Forty-two percent of respondents to a poll in the News of the World tabloid taken late last week said Blair should quit "now."
"For the moment, the prime minister's answer to all this is to plough on regardless, suggesting he has a long list of business he is determined to finish before leaving office," says Nick Assinder, political correspondent for the BBC.
Blair supporters "are suggesting 2008 is the likely timetable for a handover to Gordon Brown," he writes.
"But what is absolutely certain," he adds, "is that the speculation over the precise timetable for his retirement is not going to go away and cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the running of the country."
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