Prime Minister Tony Blair, under pressure within his party to set a date for retirement after a poor showing in local elections, said Monday he has no intention “to go on and on and on” but again refused to put forth a timetable for his departure.
Blair said he still intended, as he said before the 2005 national election, to step aside before the next national vote.
“To state a timetable would simply paralyze the proper working of government, put at risk the necessary changes we are making for Britain and therefore damage the country. It wouldn’t end this distraction but merely take it to a new level,” Blair said at his monthly news conference.
Senior allies of the prime minister urged party members to be calm following Labour’s third-place showing in English local elections last week and a wide-ranging shake-up of Blair’s Cabinet.
Some Labour lawmakers circulated a draft letter calling for Blair to set a date for stepping down, a legislator from the party told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Blair said he believed some of his critics were simply concerned to ensure that there was a smooth transition to a new leader, widely expected to be Treasury chief Gordon Brown.
“There are also those whose desire is to change radically the direction of policy and not to renew New Labour but to reverse it,” Blair said of his persistent critics on the left of the party. “That way lies not a fourth-term victory, but defeat and a return to opposition, and I will fight that all the way.
“I have said that there will be a stable and orderly transition to a new leader. I will see that this is done, because it is in the interests of this country. But it is also in the interests of this country that we get on with the business of governing,” he said.
Blair’s reference to “going on and on and on” recalled the words of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was eventually forced out of office after 11 years.