View Full Version : You Are The Problem, Blair Told

06-11-2006, 12:58 PM
You are the problem, Blair told


By Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite
(Filed: 11/06/2006)

Tony Blair faces a fresh battle to cling onto his job until next summer after his authority took further blows from both inside and outside his Cabinet.

The Prime Minister was "ambushed" at a meeting with Labour MPs last week when one backbencher bluntly told him to his face: "You're the problem."

In the meeting with Welsh MPs, it is understood that five of the 12 present were openly critical of the Prime Minister. The timing of his departure from 10 Downing Street was repeatedly discussed.

While the MPs launched their attacks, Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary, was said to have stood embarrassingly silent on the sidelines. The MP said to have answered Mr Blair back - when the Prime Minister asked his backbenchers "What's the problem, guys?" - was Albert Owen.

Mr Owen was unavailable for comment last night.

However, another MP present, Paul Flynn, said: "We discussed the transition, but also a number of other issues. The transition should be done at the time of maximum convenience for the party. There is a question over what is the best time."

At the same time, according to senior Labour sources, the Prime Minister's authority is now so diminished that he can fully count on the political support of only a minority of his Cabinet.

Tensions over his departure have been inflamed by his bungled Government reshuffle last month and the jockeying for position among senior figures who are plotting to take over from John Prescott as deputy Labour leader.

Mr Blair's opponents will open a new flank against him this week when the 40-strong Compass group of MPs and peers announces a "renewal roadshow" which will "shadow" the Prime Minister's attempts to leave a legacy in the form of a set of Blairite policies to be adopted over the next 10 years.

The group has chosen the word "renewal" to provoke Mr Blair and his inner circle - because it is the term used by Labour MPs to signal a transition of power to Mr Brown.

"The aim is to dog Blair every step of the way on policy," a leading member of the Compass Group told The Sunday Telegraph. "We want to point out the alternative path at every step - in effect to act as though Blair has already gone."

The Prime Minister wants to stay in his post at least until the 10th anniversary next May of his first general election victory. However, he is facing increasing pressure from senior figures to set out a timetable for his departure.

Pressure has been increased after Mr Brown used a newspaper article yesterday to sign up to Mr Blair's plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations. This follows the deal between the two men on pensions policy.

"Gordon is going along with all Tony's pet policies," a senior Labour source revealed. "The question Tony is increasingly having to face is - what's the point of him?" The same source claimed that the Prime Minister could count on the support of only nine Cabinet ministers when it came to the crunch - John Reid, Tessa Jowell, John Hutton, David Miliband, Lord Falconer, Hilary Armstrong, Hazel Blears, Jacqui Smith and, probably, Alan Johnson.

This group was now outnumbered by Mr Brown's long-time allies - Jack Straw, Alistair Darling and Douglas Alexander - and an increasingly large number of "non-aligned" ministers disaffected by their treatment in the reshuffle or hoping to survive the transition to Mr Brown, or both. They are Mr Prescott, Mr Hain, Margaret Beckett, Patricia Hewitt, Baroness Amos, Hilary Benn, Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Stephen Timms.