As Blair Prepares to Depart, Who Will Be Next?

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to announce later this week when he will step down. He has served for 10 years. Who are his possible successors?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is the week that British Prime Minister Tony Blair gives a timetable for stepping down. He is likely to be gone by July, which adds to the anticipation about who will replace him as prime minister.

This morning, we know one person it will not be. And we have more from NPR's Rob Gifford in London.

ROB GIFFORD: The famously difficult relationship between Tony Blair and his heir apparent, Gordon Brown, has overshadowed Blair's final months in office. Blairites, who don't want to see what they call a coronation of Brown as successor, have been trying to persuade candidates to stand against him for the leadership of the Labour Party.

The man in charge of Britain's internal affairs, Home Secretary John Reid, was spoken of as a possible strong contender. But yesterday, Reid finally ended the speculation.

Mr. JOHN REID (Home Secretary, United Kingdom): I have considered very carefully the various options that are here. It is clear to me that whatever the pros and cons of a contest for the leadership, there is not an eagerness in the Labour Party for that. There is an eagerness for us to come together, as I said last week, to unite rather than to fracture. And therefore I have decided I will not put myself forward as a candidate for the leadership.

GIFFORD: Unity will not be easy. Tony Blair has made himself unpopular in his last years in office with his support for the Iraq war, and his reputation has been further tarnished by various scandals. Though Gordon Brown has presided for 10 years as finance minister over Britain's longest postwar economic boom, he lacks Tony Blair's charisma and is often criticized for not being enough of a team player.

For now, though, other senior Labour cabinet ministers, such as Peter Hain, are rallying around Brown.

Mr. PETER HAIN (Labour Party, United Kingdom): I think people will value the experience, the substance, and the strength of a prime minister in Gordon Brown, who will take on the mantle from Tony Blair and display real leadership and take tough decisions and lead the country in a new direction.

GIFFORD: That's going to be the problem for Brown, making a break from the Blair years while maintaining continuity in Labour Party policies. Tony Blair's long goodbye has not been good for Gordon Brown. But now it seems this week finally his moment may be coming.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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