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The times Blair nearly resigned

By Gary Gibbon

Updated on 26 June 2007

One the eve of Tony Blair's departure, political editor Gary Gibbon investigates how there were several occasions during his tenure when he was on the verge of resigning.

Tony Blair is going but the last four years, ever since the Iraq war, have been a roller coaster.

His departure date has often dominated the political landscape and his political opponents have several times nearly won their prize - Tony Blair's scalp.

One of the most successful election winning politicians of all time has spent nearly half his term under threat of being thrown out.

These last four years Tony Blair has been a man in a hurry: he's been chasing his political legacy, risking everything on key votes.

For years, his job and when he would lose it has been one of the central questions of British politics, his political life is nearly over but it so nearly ended earlier than this.

Tony Blair's journey to Buckingham Palace to hand in the seals of office comes a year and a half earlier than he'd planned.

But it could easily have come earlier. Commons revolts, plots and even a late move in the cash for peerages police investigation nearly finished off Tony Blair before now.

Departure date

Electorally, he was one of the most successful politicians of all time but like no prime minister before him, much of Tony Blair's premiership has been over-shadowed by the question of his departure date.

Two years into his third term and he's off to the palace and it could so easily have been over sooner. It was March 2003 - in the build up to the Iraq war - when Mr Blair first came close to losing his job.

Mr Blair was always going to win the vote - he had the Conservatives' support - but he believed that if half the Labour MPs rebelled - it would mean he was on the way out.

At the moment when Tony Blair's standing is most damaged, his ambitions for domestic policy stiffen.

He ignored colleagues' advice to risk a vote on foundation hospital reforms and then staked his job on variable top-up fees for university students to go on top of the tuition fees already charged. The cabinet secretary checked out procedures for a prime ministerial resignation the morning of the vote.

Hutton inquiry

The very next day - Lord Hutton was to pass his verdict on the government's role in the death of David Kelly, the government scientist. The judge cleared the government.

But this would start another march to the exit door.

Tony Blair was depressed that Lord Hutton's "not guilty" verdict failed to clear the air.

He was stunned that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. He told friends British voters would never trust him again, he said he wanted to go.

His friends persuaded him to stay on. He won the 2005 general election - with a reduced majority but that victory was widely treated like a defeat.

When Labour MPs gathered for their first gathering with the leader after the election his aides sniffed danger - a plot.

Gordon Brown has always believed Tony Blair promised him he would quit Number 10 during his second term.

The chancellor's supporters frequently frustrated ambition meant often frequent moves against the prime minster meant his departure date was always talked about.

Gordon Brown's team felt promises of an early departure had been broken. They told their man to strike with a call to arms.

Then last summer - MPs were deeply uncomfortable with the police investigation into cash for honours investigations, then came the Lebanon attacks and Tony Blair's refusal to condemn Israel.

It was too much for many Labour MPs - some organised, resigned posts and the prime minister was forced into committing publicly to an early departure.

Loans for peerages

And even after the September coup, there was still one more brush with an early exit.

A senior police source has confirmed to Channel 4 News that police investigating allegations of loans for peerages approached Number 10 in January saying they wanted a second interview with the prime minister and this time they wanted to treat Mr Blair as a criminal suspect.

He would have his rights read to him and be interviewed under caution.

Number 10 told the police through an intermediary that if they went ahead with that, Mr Blair would resign immediately.

The senior police insists that there was no cave in - but there was certainly a re-think. Mr Blair was interviewed as a witness and Number 10 was able to downplay the episode.

So Tony Blair has been pushed out of no. 10 early but with nothing like the indignity the Tories visited on Margaret Thatcher.

Few get to leave office in a more dignified way.

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