- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES LONDON — Barring a last-minute hitch, Tony Blair will step down after a decade in power today, handing the reins to his treasury chief, Gordon Brown, in a mid-term change of leadership that threatens to become troubling to the United States.

Public disenchantment over the Iraq war became a major contributor to Mr. Blair“s loss of influence in the ruling Labor Party and there are signs that his 56-year-old successor is amenable to navigating a way out.

In accepting the chairmanship of the Labor Party from Mr. Blair on Sunday, Mr. Brown said Britain would “learn lessons that need to be learned.”

It was a reference to the Iraq war, which the incoming prime minister acknowledged as “divisive.”

“To … defeat terrorist extremism now involves more than military force,” Mr. Brown said at a conference of party members in Manchester, northern England.

British press reports are rife with speculation that Mr. Brown plans to reverse one of Mr. Blair“s most contentious policies, a ban on antiwar protests outside Parliament.

Mr. Brown has been chancellor of the exchequer — Britain”s treasury chief — for Mr. Blair“s entire prime ministership, but there has been little love lost between the two.

Mr. Blair reportedly attempted to fire Mr. Brown from the treasury post, once in 2001 and again four years later, only to back down under party pressure.

When, in line with tradition, Mr. Blair goes to Buckingham Palace today to submit his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II, it will mark the final act in a descent from power that began in September 2006 when, under attack on a range of fronts from Iraq to looming domestic scandals, the prime minister announced he would quit within a year.

Mr. Blair is unlikely to completely exit the world stage any time soon. The Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators — the United States, European Union, Russia and the United States — is expected to make him its leading envoy.

“Stay tuned,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters with a smile as she flew home after a 48-hour trip to Paris, when asked if Mr. Blair was about to be named Quartet envoy.

“I certainly hope that this role is going to be filled because I think it is very important,” Miss Rice said.

With nearly three years left on Mr. Blair“s unexpired third term, Mr. Brown doesn”t have to order a new general election until the spring of 2010.

But the chances are that he will call an election much earlier than that — perhaps as early as next year, if the portents are right.

Those portents hang heavily on the public opinion polls, which already are exhibiting signs of what is described as an expected “Brown bounce.”

A new survey by the Ipsos Mori polling organization for the Observer newspaper puts the governing Labor Party three percentage points ahead of the main opposition Conservatives — its first lead in eight months.

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