Tony Blair’s departure strategy: appear on Blue Peter…

The following is from the Guardian Unlimited website and was posted on Tuesday September 5th here

An exit strategy for Tony Blair’s departure from government has been spelled out down to the last detail in a leaked memo compiled by some of his closest aides, it was reported today.

The five-page document details plans for Mr Blair to leave No 10 in a whirlwind of television and radio appearances and a nationwide tour, according to the Daily Mirror.

The document, written in the spring of this year when the government was facing a series of crises – including the handling of revelations about an affair between John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, and his diary secretary and the release of foreign prisoners who should have been considered for deportation – warns: “Time is not an unlimited commodity”.

Detailing plans for Mr Blair to appear on programmes including Blue Peter and Songs of Praise, it continues: “He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won’t even play that last encore.

“In moving towards the end he must focus on the future.”

Details of the leaked memo were published after it emerged last night that a letter urging Mr Blair to resign was being circulated amongst Labour MPs.

The letter was drafted by the majority of the 38 Labour MPs elected for the first time in 2001 and was coordinated by Sion Simon and Chris Bryant, two former ardent Blair supporters.

It is thought that the group put it together in response to Mr Blair’s announcement that he would not give a timetable for his departure to the Labour conference this month, despite an increasing clamour for him to do so.

But the leaked memo reveals that the strategy and timing of the prime minister’s departure is very much on the minds of his closest advisers.

Ruth Turner, director of government relations, David Hill, the prime minister’s director of communications, and John McTernan, director of political operations, are among those involved with the document, according to the newspaper.

The memo prompted David Miliband, the environment secretary, to become the first senior minister to offer a definite timetable for the prime minister’s departure.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Mr Miliband said that he had no reason to challenge the “conventional wisdom” that Mr Blair would probably stand down in 12 months’ time, though he stressed that Mr Blair had not told him about a date.

The document sets out a strategy involving media and public appearances intended to ensure that the public “remember him as he should be” and calls on aides to make it clear how much they have loved working with him.

It continues: “His genuine legacy is not the delivery, important though that is, but the dominance of new Labour ideas… the triumph of Blairism.”

Amongst the plans before his exit are visits to half a dozen cities across the country, visits to “iconic locations”, high-profile tours of hospitals and schools and interviews with foreign newspapers to boost his international standing.

Under the heading “threats and opportunities”, the paper prepares for the reaction of Gordon Brown, noting: “the more successful we are the more it will agitate and possibly destabilise him[;] we need to consider how to deal.”

The memo also acknowledges the need to deal with Iraq, saying: “We need to incorporate this into our media plan. It’s the elephant in the room[;] let’s face up to it.”

Departure strategy

· Appearances on Blue Peter, Songs of Praise, Chris Evans’s weekday show on Radio 2 and several other popular programmes

· Visits to the 20 most striking buildings opened or re-developed since 1997

· Overnight trips to half a dozen cities across the country

· More high-profile tours of schools and hospitals

· Visits to Wales and Scotland to argue devolution is a success ahead of next spring’s elections

· Monthly set-piece interviews to foreign newspapers to boost international standing

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