The Long Goodbye

Today Britain will welcome its first new prime minister in over a decade as Tony Blair formally resigns and hands over power to Gordon Brown.

But first, the goodbyes.

Blair initially announced his decision to hand over the reins to Brown on May 10 of this year.

Since then he has been busy, embarking on a tour of Africa, traveling to Germany for the G-8 summit and calling on his friend, President Bush, in Washington, D.C.

The close relationship between the two men has led many in the British media to speculate that Blair will be missed more by the White House than by the British public.

In addition to the many journalists assembled outside the prime minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street, six military families took up their places there at 10 a.m. today.

Carrying placards of family members killed in the Iraq War, they were perhaps the best example of the hostility surrounding Blair as he leaves office.

According to a poll undertaken by ICM and the Guardian newspaper last winter, many here feel betrayed by the government's decision to invade Iraq. Close to two-thirds of the people polled in October 2006 demanded a British withdrawal from the country.

Today though most of Blair's colleagues in the House of Commons put aside disagreements on foreign policy and home affairs to pay tribute to Britain's longest serving Labor Prime Minister.

The leader of the opposition Conservative party, David Cameron, surprised many by trading the expected verbal insults for a song of praise, saying: "For 13 years he has led his party, for 10 years he has led our country, and no one can be in any doubt in terms of the huge efforts he has made in terms of public service."

He was joined by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Menzies Campbell, who commended Blair for being "unfailingly courteous," despite their many disagreements over Iraq and other issues.

Life After No. 10

Although Blair looked more relieved than depressed to be leaving office, he will likely find adjusting to life as a civilian harder than expected.

When former British Prime Minister Edward Heath left office in 1974, he was, one imagines, less than amused to find that "his" car was no longer waiting for him when he left the palace after resigning. The driver had already moved on to pick up incoming Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Unlike Heath, Blair will be provided with a car when he leaves, because of the security fears surrounding ex-prime ministers today.

But there will likely be some downsizing involved.

What Happens Next

British political tradition dictates a rather old-fashioned handover of power during which Blair will formally resign in the presence of the queen, and then, Brown will be invited to form a government.

Following that, Blair will stand down as MP for his constituency, and will assume the post of Middle East envoy for the United States, Russia, the U.N., and the EU.

Although the news of this appointment invited much derision from members of the British media, Blair received today a rich tribute from Ulster First Minister Ian Paisley in the House of Commons.

Paisley saluted the outgoing prime minister for his contributions to the peace process in Northern Ireland, and said, "I had many things that I disagreed with him on but we faced them."

Then, in an apparent reference to Blair's new role as Middle East envoy, Paisley said that the departing prime minister had now taken on "another colossal task" and wished him luck, adding, "I hope that what happened in Northern Ireland will be repeated."

For the time being though, Blair's biggest worry will likely involve the more mundane issues of packing up his home before Brown leaves his old office at No. 11 and moves into No. 10 as the new prime minister of the United Kingdom.

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