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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 July, 2004, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Tony Blair 'will stay on as PM'
Tony Blair
Cabinet members assured Mr Blair he had wide support
Colleagues of Tony Blair have insisted he will stay on as prime minister despite indications that he considered stepping down last month.

On Saturday morning, the BBC learned that four cabinet ministers were so concerned he may quit that they personally urged him to stay.

Downing Street has pointed to recent remarks made by Mr Blair when he said he was "absolutely up for" staying on.

And one of the ministers, Tessa Jowell, says she is confident he will carry on.

Support

It is thought that, in separate meetings, Ms Jowell, John Reid and Charles Clarke assured Mr Blair he had wide government support, while Patricia Hewitt wrote to the PM.

Their intervention came at a time of poor poll ratings, increased violence in Iraq and Labour's dire performance in local elections.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Cherie Blair played a critical role in persuading her husband to continue.

She told him that he should not step down at a time chosen by Gordon Brown, it reports.

An unnamed Blair ally is quoted as saying: "Cherie was not going to allow Gordon to take over this early. She can't stand him."

The paper says Lord Falconer, the lord chancellor, also played a key role in persuading Mr Blair to remain in office.

'No deal'

BBC political editor Andrew Marr said that "underlying tensions in the cabinet are now as bad as at any stage in recent years".

Mr Blair decided to stay on and he is now in steely mood
BBC correspondent Andrew Marr

Cabinet gossip was now of a deal between Mr Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown last November involving the prime minister handing over "around about now".

But the prime minister had told friends this was "absolute rubbish", Mr Marr said.

Mr Blair had come through "something of a long night of the soul about whether to carry on" but was now "in steely mood".

But it was also a crucial time for Mr Brown.

This July may mark his last real chance to control the timing of any succession and to win a general election in his own name.

The "tug of love" between Mr Brown and Mr Blair was now "fragile, angry and not entirely stable", Marr added.

'Ministerial business'

Tessa Jowell insisted on Saturday that the prime minister was not about to step down.

LEADERSHIP IN CRISIS?
16 May - Cabinet ministers are speculating about the PM's future, Mr Prescott says
29 May - Mr Prescott suggests that Mr Blair could step down mid-term "like Harold Wilson"
3 June - In a TV interview, Mr Blair refuses to endorse Mr Brown as the next PM
20 June - Mr Brown denies the PM is a "liability" for Labour after poor local election results
2 July - Mr Blunkett warns that senior ministers should not covet other people's jobs
7 July - Mr Blair admits the odd row with Mr Brown but says the media magnifies them
10 July - The BBC learns that the PM was considering resignation in June

But she refused to discuss reports that she had urged him to stay on.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I don't think that Tony Blair has at any time indicated he is on the brink of resigning."

She said she would not talk about conversations she had "in the normal course of ministerial business" because "that is what you would expect between cabinet ministers and the prime minister".

She said Mr Blair's launch of a plan for health to cut waiting times showed this was "not a prime minister on the point of giving up".

"The prime minister has the support of his cabinet behind him in what he is doing", she added.

A Downing Street spokesman said on Saturday that Mr Blair had always insisted he would fight the next election as Labour leader.

Last month, the prime minister said he was "absolutely up for" the next general election.

"You have got to have the support of the people and that's decided in an election", he said.

'Intelligence limitations'

The PM next week faces the publication of the Butler report into intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The findings will be published on Wednesday, on the eve of key by-elections for Labour in Birmingham Hodge Hill and Leicester South.

Tessa Jowell
This is not a prime minister who is on the point of giving up I can tell you


Tessa Jowell MP
The report will highlight the "limitations" of intelligence on Iraq, according to a member of the inquiry team Tory MP Michael Mates.

It is also expected to criticise John Scarlett, who takes over as head of MI6 in August and who drew up the government's Iraq weapons dossier as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

Mr Blair has been criticised for appointing Mr Scarlett to head MI6 before seeing the Butler report's conclusions.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"If Tony Blair did experience a long dark night of the soul, it seems to have passed"



SEE ALSO:
CIA slated over Iraq intelligence
09 Jul 04  |  Americas
WMD may never be found - Blair
06 Jul 04  |  Politics
Blair says Brown splits overblown
06 Jul 04  |  Politics
Blair statement on Butler inquiry
01 Jul 04  |  Politics
Blair's leadership back on menu
17 May 04  |  Politics
Blair 'not ready to stand down'
16 May 04  |  Politics


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