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Tony Blair's Closing Act

This article was written by CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.


Tony Blair's role as Britain's Prime Minister may be in its closing act, but he made it clear on Thursday that no one is going to push him off the stage before he's good and ready.

"I'm not going to set a precise date now, I don't think that's right." he said. "I will do that at a future date, and I'll do it in the interests of the country."

It's no secret that Blair alienated many members of both the Labour Party when he joined the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Since then, successive scandals have undermined his popularity, both among voters and inside the government.

This week, many of those who want to get rid of him joined forces publicly — and nastily.

The Junior Defence Minister, Tom Watson, put it this way in a letter leaked to the media:

"...I no longer believe that your remaining in office is in the interest of either the party or the country I share the overwhelming majority … that the only way the Party and the Government can renew itself is urgently to renew its leadership."

In other words: When are you going to quit?

The man who has the most vital interest in the answer is Gordon Brown, Britain's most senior public official and Blair's Chancellor of the Exchequer. Brown is the front-runner for the Prime Minister's job. The sooner Blair goes the better, as far as he's concerned.

Many political insiders here say Brown is the one who organized what amounts to the putsch this week to force Blair to quit early.

If so, he will be a disappointed man. Blair simply repeated what has been common knowledge for months — that he will leave office within a year. However, even that has left him something of a lame duck.

The man whose solid alliance with the United States so famously earned him the nickname of President Bush's poodle is gong to be squeezed. He will find it harder to use British troops and institutions to support America, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Brown, the man most likely to succeed him, is determined not to be known as anyone's poodle, but rather a guard dog of British interests with a distinctly old-fashioned Labour — read: socialist — flavor.

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