- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2006

EDINBURGH, Scotland — British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s pledge to quit within a year failed to heal rifts yesterday as his likely successor came under fire from a respected Labor Party heavyweight.

Former interior minister Charles Clarke made a stinging attack on finance minister Gordon Brown, the man most expected to succeed Mr. Blair after a decade of at times tense and testy relations with his leader.

Mr. Brown addressed party supporters in Edinburgh about the importance of national unity yesterday, but steered clear of any reference to the leadership or Mr. Clarke’s comments and breezed past waiting reporters after the speech.

After a junior minister and seven government aides resigned to protest his continued leadership this week, Mr. Blair sought to quell the rising rebellion by promising to step down within a year. But he refused to give a precise date.

Mr. Blair’s popularity has tumbled in opinion polls as government scandals over sleaze and mismanagement have been compounded by controversy over the wars in Iraq and Lebanon.

An opinion poll in the Daily Telegraph yesterday indicated 58 percent of Britons wanted Mr. Blair to resign before the end of the year and 44 percent as early as this month.

Mr. Brown and then Mr. Blair sought Thursday to put an end to a week of fevered speculation that had threatened to paralyze the government and left the ruling party looking divided.

But Mr. Clarke, who also recently accused Mr. Blair of poor leadership, put to rest any hopes of peace breaking out.

In an interview with the Evening Standard newspaper, Mr. Clarke accused Mr. Brown of “absolutely stupid” behavior in the crisis that engulfed the government.

He issued a stark warning that Mr. Brown must now “prove his fitness” to succeed Mr. Blair and said of his Labor colleagues in Parliament: “A lot of them are worried about Gordon and need to be reassured.”

Mr. Blair’s official spokesman declined any comment on Mr. Clarke’s remarks and one Cabinet minister called for an urgent end to bickering about the leadership.

“I really do think it’s quite a serious situation,” Justice Minister Harriet Harman said. “I really think everybody should shut up now.”

But members of Parliament and party activists continued to stoke the fire under Mr. Blair’s leadership.

Labor lawmaker John Smith said Mr. Blair’s position was now untenable: “He’ll have to go sooner rather than later.”

Trade union chiefs, who help to bankroll the Labor Party, also warned that the party risked losing the next election, expected in 2009, unless Mr. Blair stood down immediately to give a new leader time to revive support and reshape policy.

“Unless something changes, Labor will lose the next election,” said Derek Simpson, head of Britain’s second-biggest union, the Labor-affiliated Amicus.

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