Gay rebel MP unhappy with Blair’s timing

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Gay MP Chris Bryant, who earlier in the week signed a letter calling on Tony Blair to go, has told that he is not happy with Mr Blair’s announcement this afternoon that he will stand down before the 2007 party conference.

When asked if he was pleased that the Prime Minister has agreed to what Bryant and others had demanded, he replied: “Well he hasn’t.”

In the letter to Blair, orchestrated by Bryant and faxed to Downing St earlier this week, 15 MPs who were first elected in 2001 said:

“Sadly, it is clear to us – as it is to almost the entire party and the entire country – that without an urgent change in the leadership of the party it becomes less likely that we will win that (next) election.

“We believe that it is impossible for the party and the government to renew itself without renewing its leadership as a matter of urgency.”

Mr Blair’s statement this afternoon announced that he will be standing down within 12 months, ending what he called a “difficult week,” amid resignations from the government and speculation over his future.

Blair’s pledge falls well short of the demands of Bryant and others, who want an urgent change of leader.

Speaking at a London school, the PM apologised to the public for the past week, and said:

“The next party conference will be my last, I am not going to set a precise date , I will do that at a future date in the itnterest of the country, I think the precise timetable has to be left up to me.

“I think its important for the Labour Party to understand that it’s the public that comes first and we can’t treat them as innocent bystanders, there are more important things going on in the world and we would prefer to get on with those things.”

This statement is unlikely to end calls for Mr Blair to leave sooner than May 2007.

A senior figure in Labour think-tank Compass, which is close to Gordon Brown, told earlier in the week that a special spring conference was the most likely time to elect a new leader.

Mr Blair is said to have rejected an offer from Brown for a joint premiership during three and a half hours of meetings between the two men yesterday.

The Guardian today reported that the meetings descended into a shouting match, with the Prime Minister acccusing the Chancellor of blackmail.

Gordon Brown, still Mr Blair’s most likely successor, quashed reports of a row between him and the Prime Minister.

He said at the opening of the UK School Games in Glasgow this afternoon, “I like others have questions myself, I want to make clear that when I met the Prime Minister I said it’s his decision, I will support any decision he makes.”

He said they must work together for the best interests of the party and the country.

44-year-old Mr Bryant, the MP for Rhondda, is a former Anglican priest, and caused controversy earlier this year after auctioning a copy of the Hutton report, signed by Cherie Blair, to raise funds for the Labour party.

He has been open about his sexuality throughout his career, and was previously seen as a personal favourite of Mrs Blair.