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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 July 2006, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Blair defiant over departure date
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Prime minister Tony Blair
The prime minister has refused to say when he might step down

Tony Blair has delivered another show of resolve of the sort that have been coming along with increasing regularity of late.

It amounted to the suggestion that his latest troubles can be filed under the heading "things that come and go", and another blow to those demanding he stands down within the next 12 months at most.

His defiant tone came amid more demands for him to resign this autumn, continuing speculation he will be interviewed by police probing the cash-for-peerages affair and more claims about the personal and ministerial behaviour of John Prescott.

Mr Blair, during an interview with the BBC's Politics Show, refused to get drawn too deeply into the police investigation or arrest of his friend and fundraiser Lord Levy, other than offering him warm support.

Although he did insist: "Nobody in the Labour Party, to my knowledge, has sold honours or sold peerages."

Continuing speculation

On the deputy prime minister, he also offered some support, saying he did not understand what exactly was being alleged against Mr Prescott in relation to the Dome, adding that he had not seen any evidence of wrongdoing.

And then, perhaps most significantly, he appeared to signal that he will still be prime minister in a year's time.

It is that last statement that will surprise some and dismay many in his own party. Not the fact that he said it - he was put on the spot and would have found it difficult to fudge.

And in any case, it will hardly be used in evidence against him should he resign earlier.

What will concern some is that, while Mr Blair insisted he would do nothing to boost the speculation surrounding his future, that is precisely what he has done.

There has been a growing suspicion, even hope in some quarters, that Mr Blair will have to make his position clear around the time of the annual Labour Party conference in Manchester in September.

Former deputy leader Lord Hattersley has added to that by saying Mr Blair should use the conference to announce his resignation.

Symbolic anniversary

Others have suggested it should be the occasion to set out a timetable for his departure, which could then be scheduled for somewhere around his symbolic 10th anniversary as prime minister and after local elections next May, so insulating his successor from any bad results.

There are even those who believe there is some sort of understanding between Mr Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown along those lines.

But it is hard to see any sign of that from any of the public comments being made by the prime minister.

Indeed public remarks tend to indicate the opposite, that Mr Blair intends to go on a good deal longer than next spring.

For example, he told the Politics Show he is "not sitting there obsessing" about his departure date. Asked if he would be attending next July's G8 summit, he said that he was looking forward to it.

It also has to be said that there are still loyalists in Cabinet and the wider party who would want to see exactly that.

But many are wondering whether the prime minister can realistically deliver another speech at his conference in which he fails to give any indication of his intentions and, if he does, what sort of reaction that might produce.

It has also been noted that the police inquiry into the cash-for-peerages affair may well be coming to some sort of head.

Lastly, of course, there must be the danger that his future may be taken out of his hands, either by his own party, or by that greatest of all political dangers, "events".




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch the interview with Tony Blair in full



SEE ALSO
Blair says no honours wrongdoing
16 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Labour MP launches leadership bid
14 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Prescott and PM's future 'linked'
30 May 06 |  UK Politics



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