British politics is in for some very interesting times, as the Labour Party gets ready to see off Tony Blair — the seventh longest-serving Prime Minister in British history. Arguably the most successful Labour leader ever, Mr Blair has been under extraordinarily intense pressure from within his party to step down and hand over power to the Chancellor to the Exchequer (Finance Minister) Gordon Brown. But it is doubtful if Mr Blair’s recent announcement about relinquishing office “within a year” will go down well with those in his party who want a quick leadership change.
Mr Blair’s popularity has waned over many issues, especially over the war in Iraq and the West Asia conflict. The Blair government received virtually nothing in return for the solid support it lent the Bush administration over its ‘war against terror’. In any case, last year, after leading his party to its third successive victory in the elections, Mr Blair had famously promised not to seek a fourth term and to give his successor “enough time” to settle into office before the next elections. So by keeping everyone guessing about his departure from office in this manner, the 53-year-old may only add to the factional warfare between Blair loyalists and the supporters of Mr Brown. The party infighting has been evident in the way Mr Brown thwarted some of Mr Blair’s more expensive proposals to pour money into public services, and trashed Mr Blair’s idea of calling a referendum on whether Britain should adopt the single European currency.
In any case, with elections in Scotland and Wales coming up in 2007, Labour will be keen to settle the leadership issue as soon as possible, rather than at some point during the course of a year. This seems unlikely at this point. Labour is already sliding in the polls and putting up a united front could be the only way for it to make up lost ground.