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Blair tells aides he quits May 31


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London Sun | September 6, 2006

TONY Blair will leave 10 Downing Street for the last time as Prime Minister more than a decade after his historic 1997 landslide win.

The Sun can reveal that he has finally decided to step down as Labour leader on May 31 next year — exactly ten years and 30 days after becoming PM.

He will call an eight-week leadership election and, once a successor has been chosen, go to Buckingham Palace and formally quit on July 26, 2007. That will be TEN YEARS AND 12 WEEKS in power.

Mr Blair and a hand-picked circle of advisers are now working on the details of his resignation timing. Only last week he defiantly declared he would NOT do that. His refusal to bow to MPs’ demands sparked the beginnings of a coup from his own troops.

Yesterday he sanctioned a U-turn to let it be known he will be gone this time next year.

But he has told only a handful of his closest staff he will turn his back on being the nation’s Premier at the end of July.

Environment Secretary David Miliband, a key Blair lieutenant, told BBC Radio 4: “The conventional wisdom is that the Prime Minister sees himself carrying on for about another 12 months and it seems to me that conventional wisdom is reasonable.”

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of Labour’s ruling national executive committee, said: “I am confident that by this time next year there will be a new leader who will make his first big speech at the next party conference.”

Commons Leader Jack Straw has yet to confirm the dates of the Commons’ summer recess.

But it is odds-on he will choose Thursday July 26. Mr Blair has pencilled in this date on his calendar.

The eight-week leadership contest will start on May 31, although disastrous results in the Scottish and Welsh elections next May could bring the resignation forward by one week.

The winner — likely to be Chancellor Gordon Brown — will then have the summer to bed in before a triumphant party conference in September next year.

Mr Blair is still working on the mechanics of how his successor should emerge. He will hope that his last ten months in Number 10 will be free of aggro. But there were fears last night at the highest level that his decision to quit in July will not stop demands for him to go sooner.

More than 100 Labour MPs are poised to demand he publicly confirm his timetable for leaving.

But he is desperate to avoid naming a day, convinced it will paralyse his command of the country and the Whitehall machine.

And he has a full programme yet to deliver — like the Ulster peace process, Iraq and Afghanistan, NHS reforms, trust schools, pensions and nuclear power.

But a growing mutiny has forced him to set out a timetable.

Two previously loyal backbench MPs — Sion Simon and Chris Bryant — began the revolt over the weekend. They have amassed at least 21 names of other modernising Blairite MPs calling on the PM to go now.

Gordon Brown-supporting junior defence minister Tom Watson removed his name after discovering the letter called for an immediate resignation.

Mr Bryant and Mr Simon were wooed by the Chancellor’s team after they were passed over for ministerial jobs recently.

Loyal Cabinet colleagues of the PM were in despair last night.

One said: “Tony Blair is in tune with the majority of the British people. He has won three consecutive general elections.

“If any Labour MP thinks Tony Blair is the problem, not the solution, then they’ve lost what few marbles they had.”

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett issues a thinly-veiled warning to the Chancellor in his Sun column today. He writes: “It would be a disaster for Gordon Brown if Tony Blair were to be stabbed in the back now. The public would gasp in disgust.”

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