Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP file
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, seen here on Aug. 3, is under increasing pressure from his governing Labor Party to outline his plans for leaving office.
updated 9/6/2006 5:11:27 AM ET 2006-09-06T09:11:27

A national tour and a bevy of TV appearances to buff his legacy: Tony Blair's advisers have mapped out what they hope will be a triumphant end to his years in office, a purportedly leaked memo showed Tuesday.

But political reality may intervene with their plans as a restive Labor Party grows anxious for the prime minister to step aside sooner than he might like.

Britain's The Sun tabloid reported that Blair would leave office on July 26, 2007 — after 10 years as Britain's premier. Two ministers from Blair's Cabinet said that next year was likely to see him step down.

The newspaper's Wednesday edition, available late Tuesday, splashed across its front page that Blair would resign as leader of the governing Labor Party on May 31, 2007 — triggering a leadership election likely to take around eight weeks. He would then be replaced as prime minister on July 26, the tabloid said.

Blair was appointed Labor leader in July 1994 and took office on May 2, 1997.

George Pascoe-Watson, political editor of The Sun, told Britain's Sky News television he would not disclose the sources of the story and said only that his newspaper's previous predictions on the date of elections had been "absolutely bang on the money."

Britain's Daily Mirror tabloid said in its Tuesday edition it had been leaked a copy of the purported memo setting out the details of Blair's leaving plans — but not any departure date.

Lawmakers from the party were also circulating a letter demanding he set a resignation date, news reports said.

Blair's Downing Street office said it would not comment on tabloid speculation about his departure but said the prime minister had received a private letter on Tuesday from a group of 17 legislators. Officials declined to discuss the contents.

A call to ‘focus on the future’
In an interview last week, Blair said that his critics should stop obsessing about when he'll say goodbye, but the Daily Mirror said the leaked memo suggested his office was giving the matter careful thought.

"As TB enters his final phase, he needs to be focusing way beyond the finishing line, not looking at it," the newspaper quoted the memo as saying. "He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore. In moving towards the end, he must focus on the future."

The memo reportedly recommended that Blair reach out beyond the political media by appearing on an eclectic mix of television programs, including the children's show "Blue Peter" and the British Broadcasting Corp. religious music showcase "Songs of Praise."

Overnight visits to at least six British cities, as well as stops at 20 of the most striking buildings built or refurbished since he took office in 1997, should also be on the schedule of a final month planned down to the minute, the memo reportedly said.

The whirlwind tour would send a message that Blair's most important legacy was not the specific changes he made, "but the dominance of (his political) ideas ... the triumph of Blairism."

The thorn in his side: Iraq
He will not be able to ignore Iraq, the advisers reportedly said. Blair's decision to go to war there, and his close alliance with President Bush, are deeply unpopular in Britain and have been a major blow to him politically.

"We need to incorporate this into our media plan," the memo reportedly said. "It's the elephant in the room, let's face up to it."

Neither the prime minister nor many of his senior staff have seen the memo, Blair's official spokesman said Tuesday. He would not comment on the accuracy of the Daily Mirror's excerpts.

The spokesman said Blair was focused on the key issues facing Britain, including crime, energy and pensions, and not on any effort to improve the public's views of him before leaving office.

"What he's interested in is substance, not image," the spokesman told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "What he is interested in is analyzing the issues and developing answers to those issues."

Pressure from within Labor for Blair to publicly set a time frame for his departure has intensified recently. Critics worry that the uncertainty over when he will leave is damaging the party's electoral hopes, while Blair's waning popularity is giving the resurgent Conservative Party an opening.

‘Conventional wisdom is reasonable’
Blair last week shrugged off demands that he announce his plans at the party's annual conference later this month.

"The conventional wisdom is that the prime minister sees himself carrying on for about another 12 months, and it seems to me that conventional wisdom is reasonable," Environment Secretary David Miliband told BBC radio. He said he had not spoken to Blair about it directly.

Armstrong told BBC television "the perceived wisdom, although I might have advised something differently, is that he (Blair) acknowledges that by conference next year, there'll be a new leader in place."

Commentators questioned whether the comments by the two traditionally loyalist lawmakers were a calculated attempt by Blair's office to placate party unrest.

Demands from party lawmakers
At least 17 of Labor's 353 lawmakers have signed a letter demanding that Blair set a departure date, the BBC said. Sion Simon and Chris Bryant, the legislators who reportedly organized the letter, did not immediately return calls for comment.

Labor Party legislator Karen Buck quickly organized a second letter — signed by 49 lawmakers — urging Blair to maintain his stance and refuse to heed the clamor for him to set a date, her office said.

Setting an explicit timeframe for resignation would likely make Blair an instant lame duck, draining his authority and power. He could hammer out a behind-the-scenes understanding with his likely successor, Treasury chief Gordon Brown, and let him reassure the party that a handover was in the works.

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