Blair may quit as Labour loses support: Report

A poll in The Times newspaper found support for Blair's Labour party at just 30 per cent, its lowest since 1992.

india Updated: May 09, 2006 16:29 IST

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government sank to fresh lows in opinion polls on Tuesday as newspapers reported that many lawmakers expected him to step down within a year.

A poll in The Times newspaper found support for his Labour Party at just 30 per cent, its lowest since 1992 when it was languishing in opposition.

Some 65 per cent of respondents said they expected Labour to lose the next parliamentary election, with the main opposition Conservatives enjoying a lead of eight points and the smaller Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent.

The poll was conducted following a wholesale Cabinet reshuffle on Friday, and at the end of one of Blair's most bruising weeks in his nine years in power.

His comments Monday at his monthly press conference reinforced an impression he was retreating from his previously declared intention of completing a full third term, which would end at the next elections due by May 2010.

Blair rejected calls by Labour rebels to name the day that he intends to resign, saying it would paralyze government, but added that his plan is to ensure "a stable and orderly transition" to a new prime minister.

The plan would provide "the time plainly needed for my successor to establish himself," he said.

He confirmed that he saw his obvious successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, his finance minister who has been waiting in the wings.

Later Monday, in a closed door meeting with Labour members of parliament, Blair reportedly declared that he would give his successor "ample" time to settle in.

The Guardian said the prime minister's remarks and other private assurances given to Brown's team appeared to "assuage some of the rebels as well as the chancellor's aides."

It added: "Many MPs now believe Mr. Blair will stand down next year, an assurance that is being disseminated to MPs unofficially by some in Downing Street."

The Financial Times reported that Downing Street officials refused to indicate what Blair's remarks meant in terms of timing, "but close allies did not disagree when it was put to them that Mr. Blair's comments pointed to a mid-2007 departure."

Blair steered Labour to an unprecedented third straight general election victory a year ago, but since then his government has been dragged down by a string of highly embarrassing furors.

The failure to consider for deportation foreigners who have been freed from prisons here cost the former home secretary Charles Clarke his job in Friday's reshuffle, a day after Labour took a thumping in local council elections in metropolitan London and other urban areas in England.

The other big scandal to rock the government were revelations that John Prescott, the beefy and abrasive deputy prime minister, had conducted a two-year extra-marital affair with a secretary from his office.

In his first interview since the affair was exposed, Prescott -- never previously known for eating humble pie -- told the Independent newspaper Tuesday that he had acted "stupidly".

"I have learnt my lesson about these matters," he said. "I just want to get on and show I can do a job and make a contribution and be a valuable part of the Labour Party and the government."

First Published: May 09, 2006 16:24 IST