British PM Tony Blair pressured by resignations

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Tony Blair at a 2002 conference

Demands that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair set a date for his departure as leader of the British Labour Party reached a new level today as seven government members resigned to protest his continued leadership.

Junior Minister Tom Watson and six Parliamentary Private Secretaries had previously been considered loyal Blair supporters. Wayne David, Ian Lucas, Mark Tami and David Wright, the resigning PPSs, signed a letter stating their concern that the ongoing leadership crisis would hurt Labour at next year's elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English Local Authorities. Two others, David Mole and Khalid Mahmood have also resigned as PPSs. Parliamentary Private Secretaries are Members of Parliament appointed to assist Cabinet ministers. Blair responded by calling Watson "disloyal, discourteous and wrong."

Watson told BBC News he no longer believes it is in the best interests of the country for Blair to continue as prime minister.

The resignations come in spite of a report in The Sun newspaper quoting unnamed friends of the prime minister saying he would resign as Labour leader on May 31, 2007. The report has not been confirmed by Blair or his office.

Earlier this week at least 14 MPs who were first elected in 2001 and were previously thought loyal to Blair, including Watson and the 6 PPSs, signed a confidential letter to Blair calling on him to publicly announce a date for his resignation. The letter was leaked to the press.

Conservative Leader of the Opposition David Cameron responded to the resignations by saying the government was "divided and in meltdown". Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said that the national interest was "not being served by the continuing uncertainty over Mr Blair" and that the prime minister "should either resign or set a date."

The mounting crisis comes two weeks before the party's annual conference being held this year in Manchester.