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The Long Goodbye

Forget Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher, says Klaus Larres; Winston Churchill was the supreme prevaricator when it came to giving up power.

Ever since Tony Blair, in 2004, became a lame-duck prime minister, by announcing that he would not seek a fourth term in office and would give his successor plenty of time to settle in, speculation about the date of his retirement has dominated the headlines. A dramatic crisis meeting with Gordon Brown, and a rhetorically clever speech at the Labour party conference in September, may have saved Blair from being pushed out by his own people for the time being, but the saga is bound to continue. Blair seems to have overstayed his welcome, both with the British public at large and with his own party. Yet he wants to stay in office and fulfil his mission as he sees it; it’s hard to give up power voluntarily.

Blair has become a prime example of the difficulty leaders have in relinquishing office and retiring gracefully at the height of their reputation and influence. In recent British history, only Harold Wilson succeeded in retiring at a time of his own choosing, announcing his resignation as prime minister and leader of the Labour party on March 16th, 1976, less than two years after his election victory of October 1974. By that time he was probably already aware of the insidious onset of Alzheimer’s disease. 

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