Blair SkiddingToward the Exit

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement Thursday that he will leave office within a year is a sign of deep tensions in the Labour Party that may force him to leave even earlier than that, say British online commentators.

Tony Blair
PM Tony Blair says he'll step down next year. Some observers say he'll go much sooner. (AP Photo)

Blair's announcement followed a much-reported shouting match in a private meeting Wednesday with Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and heir-apparent. Blair had rejected setting a date for his departure last April but had to relent yesterday in the face of Brown's demand and a host of resignations from the ranks of his own government.

The Blair move, said The Guardian, "represents a further shift in position as the prime minister struggles to cling to office and prevent a meltdown in the party."

Blair's ordeal may not be over, says the BBC: "He has risked turning himself into a lame duck premier who has lost authority and control over his government and party.," writes correspondent Nick Assinder. "And what may be worse for him is that, even with Gordon Brown's endorsement and call for unity, there is no guarantee his statement will end the turmoil that has engulfed him over the past few days."

The editors of the conservative Daily Telegraph say Blair's "authority is seeping away by the hour and he is no longer master of his own fate -- and he knows it."

But Philip Webster, politics editor of The Times of London, argues Blair has gained "breathing space."

"I think that the Parliamentary Labour Party, the broad mass of the PLP, has accepted Tony Blair's statement. They are now saying, 'Let's give him space, let's all draw breath and get back to being the Government.'"

"If the polls continue to be bad for the Government, if they're heading for a wipeout in the Scottish and Welsh elections [to be held May 3, 2007], then he may go earlier," said Webster.

The Bigger Struggle

Driving the dispute over Blair's departure date is a bigger struggle over the direction of the Labour Party, according to writers across the political spectrum.

The Guardian: "War Without Winners": "Labour's necessary and overdue transition to the post-Blair era looks likely to be far more destructive and bitter than Labour members and the millions who have voted for Labour since 1997 - and who continue to have faith in its values and achievements - had a right to demand."

The Independent: "Move to block Gordon's 'coronation'"': "Allies of Tony Blair have called for a 'real contest' for the Labour leadership in an attempt to prevent a virtual coronation for Gordon Brown when the Prime Minister stands down."

The Sun: "The Silent Man":
"In his enthusiasm to see off Blair, Brown risks destroying himself and the party, plunging it back into the nightmare of the 1980s: fatally divided, permanently unelectable."

New Statesman: "It must be Gordon, Gordon, Gordon": "New Labour is not an aberration, the Blair era is not an aberration. The Tories want it to be an aberration because they like the idea that the Labour Party puts itself into impossible positions and gets itself slaughtered. Some on the left also hope it's an aberration. But it's not."

The Spectator: "The great New Labour civil war": "The Prime Minister may yet go into political remission, survive a little longer, pull off his usual party conference trick of buying time. His aides say he would like to wait until 31 May to announce his departure. But even if he lingers that long, he will be a political wraith, barely in office and certainly not in power."

What's Going on Here?

For readers unfamiliar with the intricacies of British politics, a couple of articles provide some essential background:

What is the difference between Tony Blair and his rivals? The BBC explains in Brownites v. Blairites: the full story."

And how does a political party oust a serving prime minister? The Independent counts the ways.

By Jefferson Morley |  September 8, 2006; 8:48 AM ET  | Category:  Europe
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Aznar fell in Spain for following Bush. Berlusconi fell in Italy for following Bush. And now Blair in Great Britain is falling for following Bush. This is not a good sign for the future of America. Perhaps it is time for Americans to fire their employee (after all, Bush should remember who his boss is, We The People).

Posted by: Dan | September 8, 2006 09:14 AM

I'm surprised that Morley does not mention Blair's action- rather inaction- in the Lebanese crisis and his towing of the Bush line played a large part in precipitating the current round of calls.

Posted by: Chris | September 8, 2006 10:11 AM

I didn't mention it because Lebanon was far from the biggest factor in the coverage of/debate about the ongoing civil war in Westminster. While criticism was fierce over Lebanon, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq is by far the more important foreign policy issue in the UK. In addition, foreign policy concerns are hardly the only thing driving the Blair-Brown rivalry. As is is often the case, domestic politics matter more than foreign policy.

Posted by: Jefferson Morley | September 8, 2006 10:22 AM

I disagree -- I think the straw that broke the camel's back was Blair's open-mike discussion with Bush. It wasn't the "Yo Blair" that infuriated us Brits -- it was the "No, Blair" -- Bush's refusal to permit Blair to visit the Middle East, and his decision to send Condi Rice instead.

Domestic politics do drive this dispute; but the domestic disgust with Tony Blair over his slavish devotion to Bush is what has finally persuaded many in the Labour Party to abandon him. This isn't being driven by a love for Brown (though he has been an excellent Chancellor); it's a feeling that Blair is no longer serving the UK's best interests.

Posted by: Obelix | September 8, 2006 10:49 AM

The Lebanese crisis wasn't a large factor in the recent leadership struggle, though it reinforced the idea in the UK that Blair just blindly does what the US tells him to.

Blair's problems started with the gamble over WMD in Iraq. He put his reputation on the line to get the House of Commons to agree to invade, and that reputation was shattered. No one seems to see why he must hold on for another year. It's far too late to craft a new non-Iraq legacy for himself and he's too weak politically to tie his successors into any major committments in his favoured areas. Is he really holding on just so he outlasts his idol, Maggie?

He should be engineering a graceful exit that would raise his standing, not clinging on for every last second which will just bring more and more derision and more and more damage to Labour. There are important elections in May and Labour are on course to get hammered. That's why many want him out by Christmas, and I believe they'll get him out, but it is going to be ugly.

Whoever follows him must learn from how he dealt with America. Being close to America is fine, they're like us and we work well together, but any new PM must learn to say 'no' when necessary. Blair must take a lot of responsibility for Iraq as he was the one non-American Bush may have listened to.

Posted by: DaveP in the UK | September 8, 2006 11:30 AM

I am throughly disgusted with what passes as liberal/left parties who suck-up to Multinational corporations and free trade. They betray the people as a whole and the ideals that formed their parties. They also betray the national interest of their own countries for the benefit of the wealthy. No one can control a world economy, but national economies can be controlled so as to benefit their own citizens.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | September 8, 2006 01:43 PM

Personally I'd like to believe that Blair is a well intentioned man. He probably believed Saddam had WMD, an intolerable situation after 9/11. He probably still believes that to leave Iraq now would be a disaster. Or that Hezbollah is a real threat to ME stability. His tragedy is he hitches his wagon to a dude who's clearly in over his head as leader of the free world. The conundrum of Iraq, and hence of Blair, is not that leaving Iraq now would be a disaster. It almost surely would be. It is whether staying in Iraq any longer would invite an even bigger disaster, one that just today seems to have spill over and blow back into Afghanistan.

On the other hand Blair could be just another kiss up kick down kind of guy, your run of the mill imperialist minded British PM. Only a callous ruler - your typical fascist or communist dictator of the recent past - could stand by and excuse the violent deaths of other people's children as some necessay birth pang of some phony historical ideals.

Posted by: If ya had to be a toady, pick a worthy toadyee! | September 8, 2006 04:08 PM

Tony Blair:

a) will be on the board of BP by the next anniversary of 9/11
b) has Lynne Cheney's mobile phone number
c) is a Vice President of the Socialist International, along with Amir Peretz
d photographs poorly in Barbados
e) tells close associates that his successor must be someone who uses shampoo
f) all of the above
g) none of the above

Posted by: Reynolds | September 9, 2006 02:05 PM

Indeed, Blair is on the way out. Not necessarily because UK politicians (for or against him) are discussing a probable replacement but because the people at large - both in Europe and USA - are loosing interest in him. I really had to force myself to read the various news articles about him (see above), don't remember exactly when he and Bush got together last time, what his reason was for going to Israel and Lebanon, etc. (Bush didn't - so why should Toni). When I see him on TV I think it is a replay from something last year. In reality (the eyes of "The People") he is already gone. Tony and UK politicians please focus on critical issues. Thanks.

Posted by: Jack Anagadir | September 10, 2006 02:43 AM

Good riddance to the craven puppet of America, Tony Blair.
Blair's legacy will be his misguided support for an illegal and destabilizing war and for Bush's U.S. supremacism.
The man is a traitor to Europe, a traitor to Britain and a traitor to the values we hold dear.
May he perish in hell.

Posted by: Robert | September 11, 2006 12:53 AM

Thanks Robert. Could not have said it any better.

Posted by: tk | September 11, 2006 08:37 AM

Well... there goes our only true foreign ally in the war on terror.Maybe... there are still some eastern European nations that will support Iraq(?) The only reason that I sound remotely concerned is because we will be playing the Iraq-trick slide all over again in the future. Boy... will there be a missing participant--- for sure! Walker used to hold hands and look longingly and intensely into this man's eyes... real rare for politician. Maybe around the elections... but as for any other time has there ever been such a tight bond between two rulers fighting the same war together?

Posted by: Oh... to have a blog... | September 11, 2006 11:02 PM

Tony Blair is a discredited lame duck. He threw his lot in with the discredited Americans and is now paying the price.
Look at the Conservative leader, David Cameron. Despite Cameron's rightwing, pro-America reflexes, even he realizes he must bash Bush and put distance between himself and America if he is to have any hope of being elected. Thus his robust speech today, declaring the neoconservatives' approach (and by extension, Bush) a dismal failure.
When even British Tory leaders are slamming America, that tells you how far your country has sunk in global public esteem.
And how, really, could anyone have any admiration for the U.S. when it is led by a man who (in the words of current Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero) "led the world to war on the basis of a lie."

Posted by: Giannis | September 12, 2006 12:51 AM

The rightwing fraud Blair, posing as a moderate, is headed for the trash bin of history. Meanwhile, an authentic leftist, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is coasting toward a landslide re-election in Brazil... Larry Rohter's ongoing campaign against Lula in the New York Times has had zero impact on the Brazilian president's popularity. (Rohter has repeatedly, and ludicrously, claimed that Lula oversaw the "worst corruption scandal in Brazilian history" -- a patent fabrication, as anyone remotely familiar with Brazilian history can attest. A small-time vote-buying scandal in Congress involving members of his party doesn't quite compare with former Brazilian president Collor personally enriching himself and his bagman to the tune of billions of dollars. Brazilians know otherwise and are on the verge of giving Lula a crushing first-round victory, Larry's hyperbole notwithstanding.)

Posted by: Jose | September 12, 2006 05:25 PM

the newspapers outside USA in UK or Australia that support Bush are mostly owned by Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch.May be you mention this also in future to provide a correct view of so-called free press outside or inside USA ?

Posted by: gnsetty | October 2, 2006 10:01 AM

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