LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair promised Thursday to resign within a year, hoping to appease critics in his governing Labour Party who are calling for his resignation by revealing a time frame.
"I would have preferred to do this in my own way," Blair said. He refused to set a specific departure date, but said the annual Labour Party conference this month would be his last. Next year's conference is scheduled for September 2007.
Pressure for the prime minister to announce a departure date had intensified in recent weeks, fueled by widespread anger at Blair's handling of last month's fighting between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah militants.
Many within Blair's governing Labour party were furious at his refusal to call for an early cease-fire, a stance critics saw as tacitly allowing Israel to bomb Lebanon for weeks.
Environment Secretary David Miliband — a key Blair ally — said on Thursday that Gordon Brown was the only person who should succeed Blair and claimed the party was excited about the prospect of his premiership.
"I would say the transition...the energizing, refreshing transition to Gordon Brown — not to anyone else — is a transition that is about ideas and values more than about dates," he said in an interview with the leftist New Statesman magazine, published Thursday.
Miliband, often mentioned as a potential rival to Brown, said he would not be "a runner nor a rider" in leadership and deputy leadership elections following Blair's departure.
Eight junior officials said Wednesday they had quit rather than remove their names from a letter demanding that the prime minister step aside. They were among 15 Labour lawmakers who signed the letter, writing that while they supported the centrist direction Blair had taken the party, he was no longer the right man to lead it.
Tom Watson, the most senior of those to resign, quit his post as minister for veterans in the Ministry of Defense.
Blair smacked back after receiving Watson's resignation letter, saying he would have fired Watson if he had not quit himself, and calling his decision to sign the lawmakers' letter "disloyal, discourteous and wrong."