London : Tony Blair will Thursday formally announce his intention to stand down as Labour leader and end his decade as Britain’s prime minister, Downing Street has confirmed.
After months of speculation about when he will drive into the political sunset, Blair is expected to first make his announcement to his cabinet colleagues on Thursday morning and then fly to his Sedgefield constituency to make a public announcement.
Commentators on television and print are having a field day holding forth on Blair’s legacy in office, while special supplements and programmes have been planned. It has already been dubbed as one of the longest goodbyes in politics.
On Channel 4 Wednesday, Booker prize winning novelist Ian McEwan made a distinction between the ‘Iraq Blair’ and the ‘non-Iraq Blair’. He believed that history will be kinder to the latter, very tough on the former but that in some way an image of both will survive.
McEwan has been an iconic writer of the Blair period, having won the Booker prize in the first year of the new Labour government and then having written his novel “Saturday” against the backdrop of the anti-war protest of 2003.
On Thursday, it remains to be seen if Blair will combine his announcement with an unambiguous announcement of his successor, widely believed to be Chancellor Gordon Brown.
His decision to make his first public statement on the subject in Sedgefield follows a longstanding pledge to voters there that they would be the first to know about his future plans.
During Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday, Blair was mocked by Conservative leader David Cameron for presiding over a “government of the living dead”, and accused the government of being in “paralysis,” with key Blairite ministers either quitting or waiting to be sacked by Brown.
Recalling Labour’s poor showing at last week’s local elections, Cameron said: “And we’ve got a prime minister who, even after last week’s drubbing, simply doesn’t understand that it’s over.”
Blair countered that he would be concentrating on “policies for the economy and health, and education and law and order” during the seven weeks he is expected to stay in Downing Street while his Labour successor is chosen.
He said Cameron can “be as cocky as he likes about the local election results. Come the general election, it’s policy that counts and on policy, we win and he loses”.
The Liberal Democrats tabled a parliamentary motion calling for the Queen to dissolve parliament and call a general election. They want to hold the prime minister to account for not fulfilling his promise to serve a full third term, and also want his successor to have a fresh mandate from the people to govern.
Blair’s announcement will trigger three days of frantic activity at Westminster, as Labour leadership and deputy leadership hopefuls seek nominations from fellow MPs. Labour’s ruling national executive committee has laid down a seven-week process to elect successors to Blair and his deputy, John Prescott, who has said he will step down at the same time.
This will culminate in a special party conference at which a new leader and deputy leader will be named. Blair will at some point afterwards then be driven to Buckingham Palace to resign as prime minister and hand over the seals of office to the Queen.
He will be followed by the new leader – almost certainly Brown – who will be invited by the Queen to form a government. Brown has already been nominated by more than half of the parliamentary party and will almost certainly not face a cabinet-level challenge for the leadership, after all of the likely runners refused to stand against him.