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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 May, 2004, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Labour peer urges Blair to quit
Lord Puttnam
Lord Puttnam believes Gordon Brown will "inevitably" take over
A Labour peer has said it is time for Tony Blair to quit as prime minister and let chancellor Gordon Brown step in to prevent further damage to Labour.

Lord Puttnam, a close friend of Mr Blair, voiced concern over the electoral prospects of Labour after months of negative headlines on Iraq.

He said the premier was now inevitably associated with the "bad news" coming from the war zone.

Lord Puttnam is the latest Labour figure to call on Mr Blair to quit.

"The prime minister is synonymous with Iraq, and Iraq will only deliver bad news," he said.

"Tony Blair's legacy will be what happens in Iraq five years on from now.

"There will be no good news for the next 12, 15, 18 months."

'High price'

He said that in five years' time, people might well look back and say Mr Blair was right on Iraq because a sensible, democratic regime will have emerged.

"But that will be five years out - far too late to help the aspirations and indeed horrible fears of a lot of Labour backbenchers," he warned.

Lord Puttnam, an Oscar-winning film producer, said Mr Blair was "a very moral man" and a "conviction politician" - which was both his strength and weakness.

Stephen Byers
Mr Byers came out to defend Mr Blair
"If I were him, I would go before the summer recess," he told the ITV News Channel.

"And I think he can go with honour and ... he might well be in a position in five years from now to say, not only did I do the right thing, but I paid a very high price for doing it."

But former-minister Stephen Byers, one of Mr Blair's closest allies, defended the prime minister and rebuked Lord Puttnam's criticisms on Saturday.

Mr Byers told BBC Radio Four's PM programme Mr Blair "is still a huge asset to both the Labour Party and the country".

He dismissed suggestions the prime minister had lost the public's trust, calling it "one of those Westminster Village issues".

"A lot of people know that Tony Blair has taken on a lot of difficult decisions as prime minister, they still have confidence in him," he added.

Domestic agenda

Lord Puttnam also told ITV News the premier was bound to come under enormous pressure from backbenchers who felt that Labour's achievements were being overshadowed by events in Iraq.

He said he would "inevitably" be replaced by the chancellor, who he thought "would be able to win quite comfortably at a general election, were it to be held within the next 12 months".

"Gordon Brown is exactly the person who will at least be able to think that we focus things on the domestic agenda," he said.

An increasing number of Labour personalities are urging Mr Blair to step down.

Earlier this week, former Chancellor Lord Healey said he should quit before the next general election.

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