Tony Blair's leadership

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 September, 2006, 12:00am

A five-minute primer on an issue making headlines

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced he will step down within 12 months, amid growing pressure from backbenchers and political rivals in his own Labour Party. Mr Blair started out as the darling of the party and even much of the media when he rid Britain of the increasingly detested Tory government in 1997, so, almost a decade later, why is everyone calling for his resignation? For one thing, Mr Blair's uncompromising support for the US war in Iraq hasn't won him many friends and he has been called George W. Bush's lap dog.

What's Mr Blair's background? How did he end up in politics?

Mr Blair was born in Scotland in 1953, the son of a barrister and lecturer, and spent his early years in Australia and Durham, England, before returning to Edinburgh at the age of 14 to study at the elite Fettes College before going to Oxford University to read law. Like Bill Clinton, he was a musician, playing bass guitar and singing in a rock group called the Ugly Rumours. He married Cherie Booth, a fellow lawyer, in 1980. They have four children. He was 30 when he entered politics, quickly made an impression and rose through the ranks, becoming shadow home secretary in 1992.

How did he come to be leader of the Labour Party so quickly?

Labour was trounced in four successive elections and when it was decided that the party's quirky Welsh leader, Neil Kinnock, was a liability, he was replaced by John Smith, who seemed destined to lead it to victory. But Smith died of a heart attack in 1994 and Mr Blair was chosen to succeed him by a huge majority of party members.

Didn't the Labour Party change a lot under him?

Dramatically so - to the point where it's often referred to as 'Tory lite'. Mr Blair quickly distanced Labour from its socialist past and the trade unions, moving it to the centre of British politics. In 1997, the party won by its biggest majority ever, with Mr Blair, at the age of 43, the youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812. Four years later, Labour won another landslide victory. It won last year by a smaller margin.

What's brought about his unpopularity?

In 2003, a million protesters took to the streets of Britain to protest against the country's plan to invade Iraq along with the US. But Mr Blair ploughed ahead. He recently tried to introduce some very tough anti-terrorism laws, but they were voted down and several in his own party voted against them. This summer the 'loans for peerages' scandal erupted when it emerged that some very rich individuals who had made big donations to the Labour Party had received knighthoods and other titles. Scotland Yard is investigating.

So he finds himself on the brink of resignation?

He said he would step down within the next year but refused to name a date. It is believed he wants to pass his 10th anniversary in 10 Downing Street, but some are calling for him to resign by the new year.

What happens now?

Some think Mr Blair will hang on until a successor other than Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown can be found. There's not a lot of love lost between the two men, with British newspaper The Times describing their relationship as 'the contempt that dare not speak its name'.