With his support at home terribly eroded by his staunch support of President Bush and the war in Iraq as well as a series of scandals, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced on Thursday (May 10) that he will formally step down from his post on June 27, a decade after triumphantly leading his Labour party back into power.
The power vacuum left behind by Blair's resignation has led to a scramble for the Labour leadership, with vocal critic finance minister Gordon Brown — who was Blair's close partner in helping bring Labour back to power — favored to take over.
"I've been prime minister of this country for just over 10 years," Blair told party members Thursday, according to Reuters. "I think that's long enough, not only for me, but also for the country and sometimes the only way you conquer the pull of power is to set it down." Blair's hand was forced in September when a rebellion within his party forced him to announce that he would quit within the year to make way for Brown.
Blair, who broke an 18-year Labour freeze-out from the leadership of Britain with his historic 1997 victory, is credited with helping to broker peace in Northern Ireland after decades of bloody clashes and helping to boost economic prosperity in England during his reign. He took office in the shadow of Princess Diana's shocking death and showed a steady hand in 2005 when terrorist bombings of London's commuter system claimed 52 lives (see "Londoners Return To Subways, Tony Blair Vows To Find Bombers") and pushed for African aid at that years' G8 conference (see "Bush, Blair Lead Up To G8 — And Live 8 — With Commitment To Aid Africa"). But, despite winning an unprecedented three straight elections for Labour — including one in May of 2005, two years after the 2003 start of the Iraq war — Blair's support at home has steadily been eroded by his support of Bush's policies on Iraq.
In fact, Blair's decision to steadfastly stand by Bush on the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has led some to peg him as "Bush's lap dog," a designation a shade darker than the one the then-baby-faced 43-year-old inspired when he first took over the top office, "Bambi."
With 150 British soldiers killed in Iraq and a strong anti-war sentiment in the country, Blair's poll numbers have steadily plummeted at home (see "GOP Senate Blocks Timetable On Iraq, But Passes Plan Requesting Progress Reports"). He was also weakened by a recent political party funding scandal in which detectives twice questioned him as a witness about allegations that his government traded honors for political contributions, though he was never implicated or charged with any crime.
Despite his low stature leading up to his departure, an opinion poll printed in Thursday's Guardian newspaper in England had 60 percent of voters predicting that Blair would be remembered as a force of change in the country, though not necessarily all of it good.