British PM Blair to Resign After 10 Years

British Prime Minister Tony Blair returned today to the Trimdon Labour Club in Durham, Northern England -- to the room where he launched his Labour leadership campaign nearly 13 years ago -- and announced that he would step down as prime minister and party leader June 27.

"I've been prime minister of this country for just over 10 years. In this job, in the world of today, I think that's long enough for me but more especially for the country. Sometimes the only way you conquer the pull of power is to set it down."

Treasury chief Gordon Brown, Blair's partner in reforming the Labour Party and a sometimes impatient rival in government, was expected to easily win election as the party's new leader and become the next prime minister.

After a decade in power -- the longest run of any Labour Party prime minister -- Blair leaves behind a deeply skeptical British public that made its displeasure evident in the recent local elections in the country, dealing Labour a swift kicking at the ballot box.

British newspaper columnist Matthew Parris told ABC News that "all prime ministers end up disappointing people," but the question remains: How will Blair be remembered in the years to come?

Will the present disappointment about perceived misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan peter out as time goes on? Will the historic Northern Ireland power-sharing agreement be seen as his crowning achievement? Or will Blair's foreign policy -- and what many here feel is an unfortunate closeness to George Bush -- set the stage for a legacy critics say was focused on lies, denial and disillusionment?

To find out where things might stand in a few years' time, ABC News turned to a bevy of commentators in the British media. As might be expected, there was much to argue about, but nearly all of them agreed on one thing: Few leaders have sailed into power with as much promise as Blair.

Columnist Simon Hoggart recalled "a glorious spring day when he walked into Downing Street and people thought, 'This is our future.' This young, handsome, competent man was going to sweep away all the problems of the previous few years." Since then, Hoggart added, "it's been a very, very long and sad process of disillusionment."

The expectations of course were far too high to be realistic, Hoggart said. "Of course, for a man of no substance it was never going to be possible."

Why did Britain's love affair with this once young, charismatic and popular prime minister go so terribly sour for some?

The answer in the eyes of many is a simple, singular one: Iraq, or, as some media commentators like to call it, "the Iraq fiasco."

Veteran journalist Simon Jenkins told ABC News that, thanks to Blair, "Britain hasn't fought so many wars since the 19th century!"

Jenkins observed that "these international ventures enabled Blair to talk grandly, in the language of crusades. He is convinced that he can persuade anyone of anything. And he still can't quite believe that he couldn't persuade the British that the Iraq War was a good idea."

Blair's self-professed role as international statesman ran into rough weather in Iraq, but it was not simply his reputation that suffered.

"One of the great damages" of his leadership, according to Parris, is that, "many people in Britain have just drawn the conclusion that we should never get involved in American adventures or wars or interventions of any kind."

Even Blair friends and defenders like columnist Martin Kettle are quick to acknowledge that "the perception of Blair's relationship with George W. Bush has been catastrophic for him, absolutely catastrophic."

The legacy of this special relationship may well overshadow all that Blair achieved during his 10-year stint as prime minister.

So what are the unqualified successes of the Blair decade?

The very fact of an entire decade spent in power, say some in the Blair camp.

As Hoggart pointed out rather puckishly, "It's very revealing that when anyone says to him, 'What are your greatest achievements?' he always says, 'Getting elected three times.' So, why did he want to get elected? To have achievements. What's the achievement? Getting reelected!"

Well, setting a record as the longest-serving Labour prime minister is no small feat.

Nevertheless, there are some other achievements to be reckoned with.

Chief among them is the establishment of a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, a fact not lost on Blair. His resignation announcement comes only two days after this historic agreement went into effect, long enough to savor the pleasure but short enough to ensure that people remember him for it, in the midst of all the discussion about legacy.

Even critics like Hoggart concede that "he carried that through with an enormous amount of personal skill, energy and imagination. I don't think anyone can take that away from him. Northern Ireland is now a decent, prosperous place to live."

Then there are the other defining moments of the Blair leadership era.

His response to the death of Princess Diana -- summed up in his words, "she was the people's princess" -- saw him "anticipate and capture the public mood" with total accuracy, according to the columnist David Aaronovitch.

Aaronovitch told ABC News that "in many ways, at that moment, Tony Blair helped save the British royal family," whose own reaction to Diana's death was felt by many to be inadequate, as depicted in last year's Oscar-winning film, "The Queen."

Then there was the astonishing reversal of fortunes in July 2005, when London found itself at the top of the world one day -- voted to host the 2012 Olympic Games -- and in the depths of despair the next, when the city was hit by a series of bomb blasts, all carried out by homegrown suicide bombers.

Aaronovitch reflected that "under those circumstances there was every danger that the country would be polarized." But the government's reaction, he concluded, "is regarded by both his friends and his enemies as a substantial moment for him. In other words, he did the right things in the right order at the right speed."

"In many ways," Aaronovitch said, "he is better in a crisis than he is when there isn't one."

Except, of course, when that crisis is the Iraq War and its aftermath, described by Parris as "a pretty sorry and confused, stumbling spectacle."

In the end though, it may not be the Iraq War that was the undoing of Blair. It may just be the fact that he was far too presidential to be prime minister.

Jenkins told ABC News that Blair "loves the presidency. He loves Washington, the limousines, the power, the glory. It's an open secret at Downing Street [his official residence] that he longed to be a president."

Unfortunately, that was not to be, despite the fact that in recent months, Blair's popularity in the United States eclipsed his standing at home.

An opinion poll published today in the left-leaning Guardian newspaper showed that 60 percent of voters believed that the prime minister would be remembered as a force for change, though tellingly, not necessarily for the better. Less than half the public, 44 percent, think that Blair has been good for Britain.

That could change, however, once this charismatic and divisive figure leaves office.

Aaronovitch contended that "people will gradually come to recognize that an enormous amount has actually been done in the past 10 years. You can argue that it hasn't been sufficient, that it hasn't been as much as was promised but then, life's not perfect."

Even critics like Jenkins acknowledge that "people will miss Blair" eventually.

Blair's expected successor is the U.K. chancellor, Gordon Brown, described by Jenkins as "the antithesis of Blair in every way. He is gloomy, slightly malicious, vengeful and grudge bearing."

It sounds like some people are starting to miss Prime Minister Blair already.

The Associated Press contributed to this report