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Last Updated: Friday, 25 August 2006, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
PM returns to face restless party
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair delayed his holiday because of the Middle East crisis
Tony Blair has returned to Downing Street after his Caribbean holiday to face a restless Labour Party.

The prime minister is expected to try to limit questions about his plans to leave office with a string of policy initiatives over the coming weeks.

These will include moves to tackle social exclusion, improve health treatment and raise school standards.

Aides say Mr Blair's time will be divided between pressing domestic issues and the Middle East crisis.

BBC political correspondent James Hardy said the prime minister was "acutely aware" that questions over the date of his own departure could dominate this autumn's political agenda.

"He's planning a blizzard of initiatives designed to show that he's no lame duck and to give the impression he'll be around for some time to come," he said.

Diplomatic moves

As well as domestic plans, there will be constant diplomacy to pave the way for a visit to the Middle East next month.

That follows unrest among Labour MPs about Mr Blair's refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon in recent weeks.

The anger in parts of the party was highlighted on Friday when the Liberal Democrats said 37 Labour members were defecting to them in Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett's Derby South constituency.

He is not there for the sake of it, he is there for as long as he does things
Siobhain McDonagh
Labour MP

Labour says local problems have caused the defections and argues that the government is working for a sustainable ceasefire.

Even some Blairite ministers want the prime minister to make clear his intentions about how long he will stay in office to stop any sense of the government drifting.

The pressure will be on Mr Blair to outline his plans at or before the Labour Party's annual conference in Manchester at the end of September.

But Labour MP Martin Linton, a government aide, said it had been a mistake for Mr Blair to announce he would step down before the next election.

"To give a precise date when he goes would be an even greater mistake because then the entire media would be full of stories about 'will he go earlier'," said Mr Linton.

Power and purpose

Another Blair loyalist, Siobhain McDonagh, dismissed calls for Mr Blair to leave early.

She said: "He is not there for the sake of it, he is there for as long as he does things - improve the NHS, improve schools, put more police on the streets.

"It is about what people are interested in."

Mr Blair put back his three-week summer break in Barbados to concentrate on securing a UN resolution for a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

But his decision to delay his holiday did not silence criticism within his own party over his handling of the Middle East conflict.

Several MPs called for the recall of Parliament to discuss the crisis.

Mr Blair said he would stay in charge of the government's response to the conflict while on his holiday and keep in touch with other world leaders.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott took control of the day-to-day running of the country during his absence.

And Home Secretary John Reid chaired the government's emergencies committee as police said they had disrupted an alleged plot to bomb airlines.

Blair not isolated, says Jowell
04 Aug 06 |  UK Politics
Blair returns to face UK critics
02 Aug 06 |  UK Politics

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