Prime Minister Blair yesterday refused once again to name the day when he will begin the transfer of office to his successor, who is taken to be Gordon Brown.
Former transport secretary Glenda Jackson, summing up the feeling of many Labour MPs, called for Blair to set a timetable for his departure.
She said: ‘There’s going to be a general election. He’s not going to lead this party then. We have to have a new leader.
‘That new leader has to have time to put his feet under the table, so that when we do have the next general election, the whole country knows who the leader is, the whole party is behind him.
‘This party has got to begin a process of renewal.’
However at his monthly press conference later, Blair said the main issue is to proceed with his ‘reforms’ of the NHS, education and pensions.
He claimed that ‘to state a timetable now would simply paralyse the proper working of government, put at risk the necessary changes we are making for Britain and therefore damage the country’.
He attacked ‘those whose desire is to change radically the direction of policy, and not to renew new Labour but to reverse it’.
Blair was asked: ‘Why has Jack Straw gone? Is it because he ruled out bombing Iran and you want to keep that option on the table?
Blair replied: ‘The idea that I moved Jack because of Iran is rubbish, or that the Americans objected to him is rubbish.’
He added that ‘any notion that it is linked to a decision about invading Iran which, incidentally, we are not going to do, is utterly absurd.’
Blair defended keeping on deputy prime minister Prescott on full salary and perks without a department, saying that ‘over the next few weeks as we prepare to put forward the pensions proposals there’s going to be some very, very tough decision-making and negotiating.
‘He will be very, very heavily involved in that process’.
Blair said he had had conversations with chancellor Brown but would not say whether he had given Brown an idea when he intends to go.
However, Blair reminded journalists: ‘Those who think or hope that Gordon Brown will take the Labour Party in a different direction from new Labour are completely mistaken.
‘I have no doubt at all he will be absolutely new Labour to his fingertips, and also a very strong supporter of the trans-atlantic relationship.’
He was asked to comment on the news just revealed by the new home secretary John Reid that over 150 of the foreign prisoners released without consideration for deportation had committed the most serious offences such as murder, manslaughter and rape.
Reid had also said that if armed robbery had been included, the figure would be ‘hundreds more’.
Speaking after his press conference, Morecambe Labour MP Geraldine Smith repeated a call for Blair to name the timetable for his departure.
She said: ‘It’s important the government gets back in touch with the British people.
‘He’s out of touch.’