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Former Labor officials urge Blair: Resign

Associated Press
Published May 9, 2005

LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair should quit, former Cabinet ministers from his own Labor Party said Sunday, blaming him for their sharply reduced parliamentary majority in Britain's national election.

Critics, including former Health Secretary Frank Dobson and former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, suggested that Blair's unpopularity, largely over his support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq, cost Labor dearly.

"I don't think prime ministers can go on if a very substantial part of their own party thinks that it would be decent of them to resign," Dobson told the ITV channel.

Blair won a third consecutive term in Thursday's election - something no other Labor leader has achieved. But voter disillusionment after eight years of Labor government and lingering anger over Iraq cut the party's majority from 161 seats to 66 in the 646-seat House of Commons.

"If he had not been leader, I doubt whether we would have lost a seat. We would probably have gained some," said Dobson, who was appointed health secretary in 1997 but was pressured to resign in 2000.

He is a supporter of Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who is widely regarded as Blair's chief political rival and successor-in-waiting.

Cook, who quit the Cabinet over Blair's support for the war in Iraq, urged the prime minister to consider stepping down.

"Anyone on the streets knows we were not elected because Tony Blair was popular this time around," Cook told British Broadcasting Corp. TV.

Other Labor lawmakers also urged Blair to step down. But Blair loyalists within the Cabinet dismissed the calls.

"I have got enormous sympathy for the people who have lost their seats but let's face it, they would not have had their seats in '97 and 2001 if it was not for the appeal and the reachout of Tony Blair," David Blunkett, the newly appointed work and pensions secretary, told BBC TV.

Blair has promised his third term would bring "radical" legislation on health, education and law and order, in response to voters' wishes. But Labor's reduced majority could loosen Blair's grip on power and embolden those who want him to step down.

Blair's weakened authority could make it harder for him to push through changes in public services and secure a "yes" vote in a referendum on the European Union constitution.

[Last modified May 9, 2005, 01:54:14]

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