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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 May, 2004, 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK
Blair 'not ready to stand down'
Tony Blair
Tony Blair wants to see things through in Iraq
Ministers have been rallying round Prime Minister Tony Blair amid continued speculation about his future.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said Mr Blair was "absolutely determined to see this job through".

And Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the PM was not going to "run away" because of speculation in the press.

Speculation had been fuelled by deputy PM John Prescott, who told the Times ministers were "positioning" themselves for when Mr Blair stepped down.

Mr Blair is thought to be under pressure from senior figures in his own party to distance himself from US President George W Bush, amid continuing difficulties in Iraq.

Labour backbenchers fear the party might get a hammering in next month's European and local elections.

According to the Independent on Sunday, Labour's own canvassing returns from around the country suggest the prime minister had become an "electoral liability".

Latest odds
Blair to go - 13/8
Blair to lead Labour into election - 4/9
Labour to win election - 1/3
Tories to win - 9/4
Lib Dems to win - 50/1

Source: William Hill


The paper quotes an opinion poll which suggests 46% of people believe Mr Blair should stand down before the next election.

Mr Blair has dismissed speculation he might be ready to hand over the reins to Chancellor Gordon Brown as "froth and bubble".

Mr Hoon told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost he "did not recognise" some of the stories in the newspapers about Mr Blair.

"Here is a man focused, engaged on the job, determined to sort out Iraq and allow Iraq to become part of the international community again," he said.

Oyster bar

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "There are difficulties but people misunderstand our Prime Minister Tony Blair if they somehow think he is going to run away from his responsibilities because there is a lot of speculation in the newspapers."

Mr Straw, who according to some reports has forged an alliance with Mr Brown in recent weeks, said he was "certainly not" repositioning himself, adding: "I'm not going to either."

It would be wrong for Britain to attempt to distance itself from President Bush, Mr Straw added.

Scotland's Sunday Herald newspaper claims Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott met Mr Brown last week to discuss a "peaceful succession".

It claims the pair met for 90 minutes in the back of a ministerial Jaguar in the car park of the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar on Sunday afternoon.

Next Labour leader
Gordon Brown - 4/7
Jack Straw - 10/1
Charles Clarke, Patricia Hewitt - 12/1
John Reid - 14/1
John Prescott - 50/1

Source: William Hill

They reportedly spoke of brokering a deal between Mr Brown and other potential leadership challengers.

A spokesman for Mr Brown dismissed claims of a 90-minute meeting as "garbage".

But Conservative chairman Liam Fox said: "Britain now has a prime minister with weakened authority and a chancellor with heightened expectations.

"John Prescott's comments reveal all too clearly that cabinet ministers are fighting like ferrets in a sack for supremacy."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's John Pienaar
"Minister after minister has been saying the prime minister is going nowhere"



SEE ALSO:
Cook calls for Iraq pullout plan
16 May 04  |  Politics
Will he stay or will he go?
14 May 04  |  Politics
Blair denies being a 'liability'
14 May 04  |  Politics
Blair 'faces difficult campaign'
13 May 04  |  Politics
Labour peer urges Blair to quit
08 May 04  |  Politics
PM 'will serve full third term'
29 Apr 04  |  Politics


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