- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair gave in yesterday to a fierce revolt in his Labor Party and reluctantly promised to quit within a year.

Mr. Blair, whose popularity began sinking when he committed his nation to the U.S.-led war in Iraq three years ago, had long resisted calls to publicly set a time frame for his departure from office. He feared such an announcement would make him a lame duck and sap his remaining authority.

But ultimately, he could find no other way to end days of public turmoil that were severely damaging his party, which has been in power for nearly a decade but now trails the opposition Conservatives in the polls.

“I would have preferred to do this in my own way,” Mr. Blair said, as he conceded that the party’s annual conference this month would be his last.

He refused to set a specific departure date, saying, “The precise timetable has to be left to me and has to be done in the proper way.”

Mr. Blair appeared to have struck a deal with his expected successor, Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who signaled his support in a statement minutes before Mr. Blair spoke to television cameras at a North London school.

The key question is whether the prime minister’s exit strategy will be detailed and speedy enough to satisfy the impatient Labor legislators who forced his hand.

Early signals were that it would buy the 53-year-old Mr. Blair time — but not much. He is eager to reach the 10-year anniversary of his 1997 assumption of office, which would be in May.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Mr. Blair and President Bush still had a lot of work to do together.

“He’s a valued ally,” Mr. Snow said. “And at this point, we’re not sitting around writing encomia for Tony Blair. We’re instead busy working with him.”

Mr. Brown, 55, said that although he has had questions about Mr. Blair’s plans, he would support his decisions.

“When I met the prime minister yesterday, I said to him … it is for him to make the decision,” Mr. Brown said while opening a children’s sports tournament in Glasgow, Scotland . “I will support him in the decisions he makes.”

Chris Bryant, who organized a letter in which 15 Labor lawmakers called this week for the prime minister’s resignation, said he was encouraged.

Eight junior officials quit Wednesday rather than remove their names from the letter.

Their revolt had raised the possibility that Labor’s eventual change of command would be rancorous and messy — reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s abrupt, involuntary departure from office in 1990 at the hand of rebels in her Conservative Party — rather than the “stable, orderly transition” that Mr. Blair has long promised.

The prime minister apologized on Labor’s behalf for the tumultuous week, which reportedly also included shouting matches with Mr. Brown.

“With everything that’s going on here and in the world, [it] has not been our finest hour,” Mr. Blair said.

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