By Prasun Sonwalkar
London : Tony Blair Thursday signalled the beginning of the end of what has come to be known as the 'Blair era' during which he was hailed as a political hero as well as a villain as the prime minister for Britain's role in Iraq.
In a moving speech at his Sedgefield constituency, Blair said he would formally tender his resignation to the Queen on 27 June. The announcement triggered a leadership contest in the Labour party, which is widely expected to be won by Chancellor Gordon Brown.
In a remarkably frank self-assessment of his decade in office, Blair said expectations were too high when he moved into Downing Street on May 2, 1997. But, he said, "hand on heart", that he always did what he thought was right for Britain.
He added: "But I may have been wrong… I apologise for the times I may have fallen short of your expectations."
Blair said he was lucky to have served Britain as the prime minister, and called it a "blessed and the greatest" nation on earth.
However, Blair recalled the many achievements of his time in office in areas such as pensions, health and education and asked the people to think about the living standards in 1997 and in 2007. He said he had been in office for 10 years, which was "long enough".
In comments that were ridiculed by many, Blair claimed that in international relations, "Britain is not a follower today but a leader". He went on to justify his government's actions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo and after Sep 11 in Afghanistan, Iraq and the 'war on terrorism'.
"Politics may be the art of the possible, but in life, give the impossible a go… I leave with higher hopes for the future," he said to the small group of voters in his constituency. The address, however, was telecast live across various channels and recorded high viewership.
As Blair arrived at the Labour Club in Sedgefield where he began his political career 13 years ago, some people booed him and raised banners reading "Sedgefield against war", reflecting the widespread ennui with Blair on the issue of Iraq.
In fact, The Independent this week branded his legacy as the "Blairaq", splashed across its front page.
Earlier in the day, Blair announced his decision to resign on 27 June to his cabinet colleagues at 10 Downing Street, before flying to Sedgefield. During the cabinet meeting, Brown paid tribute to Blair's leadership, and praised "his unique achievement over 10 years and the unique leadership he had given to the party, Britain and the world."
His comments were greeted by "much thumping of tables" by the cabinet colleagues, the prime minister's official spokesman told reporters. Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said it had been a "cordial, comradely" meeting with "quite a lot of laughter" and "leg-pulling".
Hain, who is a candidate for Labour's deputy leadership, said Brown would now "take up Tony Blair's mantle in the next period of our government".
Blair's election agent and close friend John Burton said he expected Blair to continue as Sedgefield's MP until the next general election, unless he was offered a major international job.