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Blair urged to go by Labour MPs

BBC | September 4 2006

A group of normally loyal Labour MPs have written to Tony Blair urging him to quit as prime minister, the BBC understands.

The MPs, who were principally elected in 2001, have confronted Mr Blair amid growing calls for him to give a date for his departure.

The news prompted Cabinet Minister David Miliband to say he expected Mr Blair to quit in a year's time.

It follows as a leaked memo detailing a farewell tour for Mr Blair.

Mr Miliband's intervention is the first time a senior minister has given a definite timescale.

But Mr Miliband stressed he did not have the planned timings from Mr Blair's own mouth.

Uncertainty fears

The prime minister has said he will step down before the next election but is refusing to give more details about his plans at this month's Labour conference in Manchester.

The BBC has not seen the contents of the letter from the 2001 intake of MPs but it is believed it calls on him to resign.

The letter is thought to have been co-ordinated by normally loyal Blairite MPs Sion Simon and Chris Bryant.

MPs elected only last year are also understood to have drafted a separate letter which praises Mr Blair's achievements but says it is time for him to go.

A year to go?

Mr Miliband told BBC Radio 4's Today programme Mr Blair had not told him about a departure date.

But he added: "The conventional wisdom is that the prime minister sees himself carrying on for about another 12 months. It seems to me that that conventional wisdom is reasonable."

Mr Blair's critics will also seize on a leaked memo obtained by the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The memo, reportedly drawn up by a group of his allies, including his pollster Philip Gould, says the prime minister's departure should promote the "triumph of Blairism".

"He needs to go with the crowd wanting more," the memo reportedly says.

"He should be the star who won't even play that last encore. In moving towards the end he must focus on the future."

It says Mr Blair has plans to appear on Blue Peter, Songs of Praise and Chris Evans's radio show in the lead-up to his retirement.

Other suggestions include spending a day then an overnight stay in half a dozen cities across the country and visiting the 20 most striking buildings opened or redeveloped since 1997.

Poll changes

Downing Street has declined to comment on the leak.

BBC political correspondent Norman Smith said that the prime minister may not have seen the leaked memo.

The reports come as a Populus poll suggested David Cameron's Conservatives would have a strong lead over Labour whether Mr Blair stayed on, or was replaced by Gordon Brown or John Reid.

The poll of 1,504 people also suggested 30% of Labour voters and 51% of the general public wanted Mr Blair to step down this year.

Various trade union leaders and Labour MPs have criticised the uncertainty generated by Mr Blair's failure to specify a departure date. Mr Brown will be the strong favourite to take over should Mr Blair step down.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson has said Mr Blair would be handing a "gift" to the opposition parties if he did release a timetable.


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