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."

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