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.
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
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