2006 becomes the favourite for Blair’s departure

2006 becomes the favourite for Blair’s departure

blair tired - blair worried1.jpg

    Could the police inquiry really force him out?

With Tony Blair spending the weekend at the G8 summit in St Petersburg this morning’s Sunday papers won’t make comfortable reading for Labour – particularly those close to the Prime Minister. For all the speculation is on how the loans/gifts for honours inquiry will impact on Number 10 and the Prime Minister himself.

The Sunday Telegraph carries a report by Patrick Hennessy and Melissa Kite that friends of Lord Levy are saying that Number 10 “is to blame” for what happened and that he is not prepared to be the “fall guy”.

It starts: “Lord Levy will pass the buck to Tony Blair in the police inquiry into the “cash for honours” affair, friends of the Labour fund-raiser signalled last night. They made it clear that the peer was not prepared to be the fall guy for the Prime Minister, and insisted that he had not had any input into the decision to offer peerages to four wealthy businessmen who loaned Labour a total of £4.5 million before last year’s general election..’Decisions on who gets what are not anything to do with Michael,’one close friend of Lord Levy insisted. ‘What could he offer? It was not in his gift. He was the fund-raiser – that’s all.’

There’s a similar report by Marie Woolf and Francis Elliott in the Independent on Sunday which says that “Lord Levy is understood to have discussed his arrest with party chiefs on Friday night adding to fears he may implicate the Prime Minister and others.”

It goes on: “The IoS has learnt that Lord Levy was the “senior member of the PM’s circle” quoted in March as saying: “Blair knew exactly what was going on. As far as he was concerned, it was absolutely legal. It wasn’t a matter of convincing him… It was a matter of everyone convincing each other.”

Perhaps more worrying for Tony Blair is a suggestion by Antony Barnett, Gaby Hinsliff and Ned Temko in the Observer under the headline “Loan trail to No 10 revealed – It’s ‘curtains for Blair’ if Levy is charged”.

This report continues “Police probing the cash-for-peerages scandal have uncovered a paper trail that goes to the ‘heart of Downing Street’, according to a source close to the investigation..Although the source would not be drawn on what was discovered, he said the evidence makes it more likely criminal charges will be brought against senior Labour figures. The police are said to have been ‘greatly surprised’ at what they have found, the source said…The growing cash-for-peerages affair has led some ministers to warn that Blair will be forced out if Levy is charged in connection with the inquiry. ‘If Levy is charged, it’s curtains,’ said one well-placed minister. ‘That’s the call of everyone in the Parliamentary Labour party I’ve spoken to: if he’s charged, that’s it.

In the “Blair departure date” betting the favourite on Betfair is now the final quarter of 2006. The best bookmaker price is 5/2 on Blair going by the end of December.

My mantra has always been – “No one ever got rich betting against Lucky Tony”. Now I’m not so sure. The closer this gets to Number 10 the more likely that the 2006 departure date betting price will tighten.

Mike Smithson

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