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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
PM 'will not quit before polls'
Tony Blair
Tony Blair is expected to make an announcement within weeks

Downing Street has firmly denied press claims Tony Blair will announce his resignation before Scottish, Welsh and English local elections on 3 May.

The prime minister has been expected to quit as Labour leader after the poll - but some press reports suggested he would go earlier.

In a rare comment on his plans, Downing Street said speculation Mr Blair would quit on Tuesday, 1 May, was "wrong".

Mr Blair, who is in Poland for a summit, refused to comment.

Opinion polls suggest Labour is in for a bad night in next Thursday's polls, with the party expected to lose hundreds of seats in England and Wales and see the SNP potentially take over as the largest party in Scotland.

But reports in the Daily Telegraph that Mr Blair would announce his retirement on Tuesday - the 10th anniversary of his election as prime minister - in a bid to limit the damage were categorically denied by his official spokesman.

The spokesman said: "I have one word for the stories: wrong. The stories this morning are wrong."

Asked if he was saying the stories Mr Blair would make an announcement about his future before the local elections were wrong, the spokesman replied: "Correct."

'Scoop'

Mr Blair has acknowledged he could be liability at the polls - recently urging voters in Scotland to resist the temptation to give him a final "kicking".

But he has consistently refused to comment on his departure date, beyond saying he would be gone by the next Labour conference, in September.

He maintained this stance earlier at a joint press conference with Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Warsaw, when he said he would not give journalists the "scoop" they were seeking.

"I wouldn't hold your breath on that story," he told reporters.

Speculation at Westminster has centred around Thursday, 9 May, the day after power sharing is due to resume in Northern Ireland - seen as one of the biggest achievements of Mr Blair's time in office.

Leadership contest

After he stands down, Mr Blair will continue to serve as prime minister until a new Labour leader - widely expected to be Chancellor Gordon Brown - is elected.

Earlier, the chances of Mr Brown facing a contest for the leadership increased after left wing Labour MPs John Mcdonnell and Michael Meacher - agreed to pool their resources.

The pair had previously been planning separate leadership bids but have now agreed that one of them will withdraw.

They are expected to meet on the day Mr Blair resigns and compare how much backing they have among Labour MPs.

The one with the fewest nominations will step aside and back the other.

This will boost the prospect that one of them will be able to gain the 45 nominations needed to be entered in the ballot.


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