5 Sep 2006: Letters Calling For PM To Quit
Comment at end
March 19 2007
[Picture: Not a prayer for Blair]
Seventeen Labour MPs have today sent a letter to Tony Blair calling on him to quit as prime minister.
Loyal Blairites Sion Simon, MP for Birmingham Erdington, and Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda, are thought to be behind the document.
The news comes just hours after environment secretary David Miliband said he thought the prime minister would leave within the next 12 months.
And another letter is now being circulated expressing support for this tentative timetable, which Downing Street said had been signed by 49 Labour MPs.
Most of the MPs who signed the critical letter are thought to have joined the House of Commons following the 2001 general election. There are also reports of two other letters, one signed by MPs from the 2005 intake and another by ministerial aides.
Mr Blair was in York today to make a keynote speech on social exclusion, where his only reference to the continued speculation about his future was made in an aside about a seminar being held in his hotel.
Mr Blair announced before the last general election that he would not fight a fourth election, but has refused to set a timetable. On Friday, he made clear that he would not be making any announcement on the issue at the Labour party conference later this month.
This was intended to limit the speculation about his future but had the opposite effect, prompting a backlash from Labour backbenchers who warned that the party could not continue amid such uncertainty about its leadership.
Today’s letter reveals how serious the issue has become. However, Jeremy Beecham, chairman of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC), described it as “rather unfortunate and misconceived”.
He told BBC News 24 that Mr Blair was entitled to leave “in dignity, and I’m sure that is what will happen”, but warned that continued speculation was “unnecessary and a distraction”.
Responding to the reports this morning, Mr Miliband, a close ally of the prime minister, warned that Labour MPs had a responsibility to “ensure that there is a transition that is good for the country, to make sure that the country’s priorities come first”.
He added: “He is committed to giving his successor ample time. His successor I believe will be Gordon Brown, who I believe will be an excellent prime minister.
“We need a transition that is stable and orderly; a transition that gives energy and ideas and idealism to the party and gives ample time, which the prime minister has said.”
He called on the party to accept Mr Blair’s assurances about his departure, saying: “The conventional wisdom is that the prime minister sees himself carrying on for about another 12 months. It seems to me that the conventional wisdom is reasonable.”
Friday, 1 Sep 2006
Tony Blair’s refusal to name a departure date angers Labour MPs
Labour MPs have reacted angrily to Tony Blair’s announcement today that he has no intention of saying exactly when he will leave Downing Street. The prime minister stressed he was not going to go “on and on” and would keep his promise not to fight a fourth general election, but told his critics to stop “obsessing” about his leadership and get on with running the government.
Mr Blair’s comments, made in an interview with The Times, are intended to limit the discussions about his departure that are set to dominate Labour’s annual party conference in Manchester later this month. They came hot on the heels of last night’s policy announcement on social exclusion, and show the prime minister’s determination not to let the issue of his premiership get in the way of what he expects to be a busy few months of government. However, the reaction from Labour MPs today suggests he is likely to fail in this aim.
“I’d have thought it was clear to everyone that the debilitating uncertainty over the leadership can’t go on,” former minister Andrew Smith told Today. He rejected Mr Blair’s assumption that the majority of his critics were in favour of reversing New Labour’s reforms, insisting this analysis was “very wrong and very bad”.
“I think that right across the country and wherever in the party people are coming from, and especially on the doorsteps in marginal constituencies like my own, it’s very clear that the leadership issue has to be sorted out sooner rather than later,” he said.
Labour MP for Newport West Paul Flynn also condemned Mr Blair’s comments, saying he must make clear when he was leaving – and ensure this was soon – to avoid a “dog fight” within the party.
“Tony Blair is the greatest leader Labour has ever had, and the most successful prime minister, but he can either go with the dignity and gratitude of his party, or he can go as Thatcher did, with a bitter row.”
Wayne David, the Labour MP for Caerphilly, said he had always backed the government but it was “unfortunate” that Mr Blair had not used today’s interview to “provide clarification” about his intentions. Referring to the prime minister’s insistence that he would leave his successor enough time to bed in before the next election, he said: “How much time is ‘ample’ time? He can’t have his cake and eat it.”
However, some Labour MPs accepted Mr Blair’s argument that his reassurances so far should be enough for his party.
“I think he has signalled clearly that he is going to stand down next year and I think the party should accept that. This is consistent with serving a reasonable term after his election only a year ago,” Mike Gapes, of Ilford South, said.
Siobhain McDonagh MP added: “People should let him get on with his job – he is not prime minister for the sake of being prime minister. I want him to spend his time on things like social exclusion because that is what bothers me and my constituents.”
Minister, Tom Watson, resigns in attempt to force Blair exit, 7th September 2006
Tony Blair’s administration has been dealt what may turn out to be a fatal blow by the resignation of seven members of his Government.
Tom Watson, the under-secretary of state for defence, wrote to Mr Blair this morning telling him that it was no longer in the interests of Labour or of the country for him to remain Prime Minister.
This afternoon six parliamentary private secretaries – MPs on the lowest rung of the Government ladder – also handed in their resignations. Khalid Mahmood, Wayne David, Ian Lucas, Mark Tami and David Wright said they had to leave because Mr Blair had not “ended the uncertainty” over when he intends to step down. Chris Mole also quit his post as parliamentary private secretary to Phil Woolas, communities minister.
The Prime Minister responded immediately by describing Mr Watson as “disloyal, discourteous and wrong” and saying that he had planned to fire him anyway.
And he warned Labour MPs that they risk consigning the party to electoral defeat if they continue to call for his resignation.
The six Government members who resigned today are all understood to be among the 17 MPs who signed a confidential letter to Mr Blair yesterday urging him to name a date for his departure.
Mr Watson’s resignation will have all the more impact as he is known as a Blairite loyalist, who formerly served as a Government whip and was expected to rise through the ministerial ranks under the Prime Minister.
In his letter, released to the press, Mr Watson wrote: “It is with the greatest sadness that I have to say that I no longer believe that your remaining in office is in the interest of either the party or the country. How and why this situation has arisen no longer matters. I share the view of the overwhelming majority of the party and the country that the only way the party and the Government can renew itself in office is urgently to renew its leadership.”
Last night it was reported that Mr Blair had set a date for his departure of May 31 next year, in an effort to curb demands for his immediate resignation.
An eight-week leadership election campaign will follow allowing a new leader — the favourite being Gordon Brown — to be chosen by July 26, when Mr Blair will step down as Prime Minister. No 10 described the claims as “speculative” but refused to deny their accuracy. If true, it would validate a report in The Daily Telegraph at the end of June that Mr Blair had decided to go next May after 10 years as Prime Minister.
Yesterday two Blairite Cabinet ministers, David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, and Hilary Armstrong, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said they expected Mr Blair to go within a year.
Tom Watson, left, used to be Government whip and a Blairite.
The decision by Cabinet ministers to place a limit of a year on Mr Blair’s tenure reflected mounting panic in Downing Street as up to 100 Labour backbenchers prepared to sign demands for him to set a clear timetable for departure.
The Prime Minister infuriated colleagues last week by suggesting he would not be pushed into making public a timetable for his departure. But since then aides have suggested he did not mean to appear defiant and had intended to reassure MPs he would not “go on and on”.
Frustration at the refusal to offer clarity about a departure date boiled over yesterday. Three letters circulated among MPs demanding that he make his intention clear. Many of those who signed an initial letter sent to Mr Blair were formerly loyal supporters of the New Labour project.
Last night, Labour sources cast doubt on whether Mr Blair could last until May.
During a day of high drama Mr Blair had been left with little option but to clear up the confusion.
It emerged that angry backbenchers were planning to send a delegation of party grandees to Downing Street within days to demand that he set a firm timetable.
The Prime Minister has resisted going public with a date, fearing that his authority would drain away in the last months in office.
It was also disclosed that a party whip, Kevin Brennan, whose job is to discipline rebellious MPs, wrote separately to the Prime Minister expressing his view that he should go. There was no disciplinary action against him.
The claims of a May 31 resignation surfaced in The Sun, often used as a Government mouthpiece. Labour backbenchers were likening the atmosphere inside their party to the turmoil in Tory ranks before Margaret Thatcher’s downfall at the hands of rebel ministers in 1990.
Senior MPs said they now distrusted Mr Blair so profoundly that they would dispatch senior party figures to express their collective view to him face to face, before this month’s party conference.
Several MPs claimed cracks were appearing in the Cabinet and named Jack Straw, the Leader of the Commons and Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, among those considering confronting Mr Blair over his departure date. Adding to speculation, a leaked Downing Street memo suggested that planning for the hand over to a successor was well in train — despite repeated denials.
A five-page document leaked to the Daily Mirror suggests that Mr Blair needs to “go with the crowds wanting more” and sets out plans for a nationwide “farewell tour”. That includes appearances on television programmes such as Blue Peter and Songs of Praise in his final month in office.
David Hill, Mr Blair’s director of communications, said the memo had not been seen by the Prime Minister or other senior aides.
As well as Mr Watson, a supporter of Mr Brown, the signatories to the letter from the 17 MPs in the 2001 intake to Parliament included up to six parliamentary aides to ministers.
Frantic attempts to shore up Mr Blair’s authority were launched by senior Downing Street staff who telephoned MPs to try to persuade them to sign rival letters supporting the Prime Minister.
By early evening 49 MPs had signed the supportive version, urging Mr Blair to stick to his guns by refusing to lay out a detailed timetable in public.
Many MPs reported, however, that they had rejected Downing Street’s offer in no uncertain terms.
[Picture: He once had the whole world, or at least the party, in his hands. Now he must be thinking of wrapping them round a few necks!]
Resignation letters in full
Last Updated: 1:46am BST 07/09/2006
Seven junior members of the Government, including Tom Watson, a defence minister, and Khalid Mahmood, a parliamentary private secretary, have handed in their resignations. Here are the full texts of their letters to Tony Blair.
Tom Watson’s letter
The Labour Party has been my life since I was 15 years old. I have served the Party at every conceivable level and your own leadership since 1994 in a dozen different capacities, latterly as MP for West Bromwich East, a Government Whip, and as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence. My loyalty to you personally, as well as to the Party and the values we stand for, has been absolute and unswerving. The struggle to fashion the kind of credible, convincing, effective Labour Party you now lead has been the preoccupation of my adult years.
My pride in what our government has achieved under your leadership is beyond expression. We have revolutionised the lives and expectations of millions of our citizens, combining social justice with prosperity in a way which is unprecedented in the history of our country. Your leadership has been visionary and remarkable. The party and the nation owes you an incalculable debt.
So it is with the greatest sadness that I have to say that I no longer believe that your remaining in office is in the interest of either the party or the country. How and why this situation has arisen no longer matters. I share the view of the overwhelming majority of the party and the country that the only way the Party and the Government can renew itself in office is urgently to renew its leadership.
For the sake of the legacy you have long said is the only one that matters – a renewed Labour party re-elected at the next general election – I urge you to reconsider your determination to remain in office.
As you know, I had a conversation with the Chief Whip last night, in which she asked me to withdraw my support from the 2001 intake’s letter calling on you to stand down, or my position would be untenable as a government minister. I have reflected on this overnight. I cannot withdraw my name, and therefore I accept her judgement.
I do not believe that statements so far give us the clarity necessary to progress over the next year. Nor do I believe that newspaper reports of potential dates which may have appeared since I signed the 2001 intake’s letter can provide the clarity the party and the country so desperately need.
It is with the greatest regret, therefore, that I must leave the Government.
Tom Watson MP
Khalid Mahmood’s letter
It is with great regret that I am writing to you to offer my resignation from my position as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Tony McNulty MP at the Home Office.
Our Labour Government has achieved a huge amount for this country, investing in and reforming our public services and lifting millions of our most vulnerable citizens out of poverty. Your leadership since 1994 has been inspirational.
The party and the nation owe you a tremendous debt. It is imperative that we continue this work for the good of our party and our country.
This has always been my primary concern. It was what drew me into Labour politics as a very young man, and what has underpinned the unswerving loyalty I have always demonstrated to you personally and the party as a whole.
The party and the Labour Government’s work is more important than any individual. Sadly, I feel that your remaining in office no longer serves the best interests of the party or the country.
Given which views, it is with the greatest regret that I must leave the Government.
Khalid Mahmood MP
All of the MPs who reportedly signed the letter were elected in 2001. The six who resigned Wednesday are among the 17 who signed the letter.
The six are Khalid Mahmood, Wayne David, Ian Lucas, Mark Tami, David Wright and Chris Mole, all of whom had been parliamentary private secretaries.
Tony Blair’s Reply to Tom Watson
Thursday, 07 Sep 2006 09:47
Tony Blair responds swiftly to Tom Watson’s resignation as junior defence minister, saying he was going to dismiss him anyway for being “disloyal, discourteous and wrong”.
Later that day, the prime minister made public his response to the West Bromwich East MP. Here is the full text of the letter:
Thank you for your letter.
I am sorry it has come to this.
You did a good job as a minister and I thank you for it.
I know you have worked hard for the Labour party throughout your life.
I also accept entirely that you are entitled to your view about the best way for the Labour Party to renew in office.
But as you will know from the long years of opposition we have endured, Labour only came to power after putting behind it the divisive behaviour of the past and uniting around a modern vision for both country and party.
The way to renew and win again now is not to engage in a divisive – and since I have already made it clear I will be leaving before the election – totally unnecessary attempt to unseat the party leader, less than 15 months after our historic third term victory; but through setting out the policy agenda for the future combined with a stable and orderly transition that leaves ample time for the next leader to bed in.
We are three years from the next election.
We have a strong policy platform.
There is no fundamental ideological divide in the Labour party for the first time in 100 years of history.
For the first time ever, we have the prospect not just of two but three successive full terms.
To put all this at risk in this way is simply not a sensible, mature or intelligent way of conducting ourselves if we want to remain a governing party.
So I am sorry we are in disagreement.