MPs reject Blair’s call to pipe down

Labour MPs have reacted angrily to Tony Blair’s announcement today that he has no intention of saying exactly when he will leave Downing Street.

The prime minister stressed he was not going to go “on and on” and would keep his promise not to fight a fourth general election, but told his critics to stop “obsessing” about his leadership and get on with running the government.

Mr Blair’s comments, made in an interview with The Times, are intended to limit the discussions about his departure that are set to dominate Labour’s annual party conference in Manchester later this month.

They came hot on the heels of last night’s policy announcement on social exclusion, and show the prime minister’s determination not to let the issue of his premiership get in the way of what he expects to be a busy few months of government.

However, the reaction from Labour MPs today suggests he is likely to fail in this aim.

“I’d have thought it was clear to everyone that the debilitating uncertainty over the leadership can’t go on,” former minister Andrew Smith told Today.

He rejected Mr Blair’s assumption that the majority of his critics were in favour of reversing New Labour’s reforms, insisting this analysis was “very wrong and very bad”.

“I think that right across the country and wherever in the party people are coming from, and especially on the doorsteps in marginal constituencies like my own, it’s very clear that the leadership issue has to be sorted out sooner rather than later,” he said.

Labour MP for Newport West Paul Flynn also condemned Mr Blair’s comments, saying he must make clear when he was leaving – and ensure this was soon – to avoid a “dog fight” within the party.

“Tony Blair is the greatest leader Labour has ever had, and the most successful prime minister, but he can either go with the dignity and gratitude of his party, or he can go as Thatcher did, with a bitter row,” he told politics.co.uk.

Wayne David, the Labour MP for Caerphilly, said he had always backed the government but it was “unfortunate” that Mr Blair had not used today’s interview to “provide clarification” about his intentions.

Referring to the prime minister’s insistence that he would leave his successor enough time to bed in before the next election, he told politics.co.uk: “How much time is ‘ample’ time? He can’t have his cake and eat it.”

However, some Labour MPs accepted Mr Blair’s argument that his reassurances so far should be enough for his party.

“I think he has signalled clearly that he is going to stand down next year and I think the party should accept that. This is consistent with serving a reasonable term after his election only a year ago,” Mike Gapes, of Ilford South, told politics.co.uk.

Siobhain McDonagh MP added: “People should let him get on with his job – he is not prime minister for the sake of being prime minister. I want him to spend his time on things like social exclusion because that is what bothers me and my constituents.”