Blair almost quit because of family pressures, says Bragg

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Tony Blair considered quitting this year because "family considerations" were pressing and he was under "colossal strain", Lord Bragg, the television arts presenter and close friend, said last night.

Tony Blair considered quitting this year because "family considerations" were pressing and he was under "colossal strain", Lord Bragg, the television arts presenter and close friend, said last night.

The peer, whose wife Cate Haste has co-written with Cherie Blair a book about No 10 spouses, candidly claimed that the Prime Minister had considered the option of resigning due to family commitments.

While he emphasised that the problem was not marital, he said: "The real stress was personal and family, which matters most to him."

He added: "I think that he was under tremendous stress. He was being hammered in the press. Perhaps he had doubts about some policies, perhaps not. But in my view, the real stress was personal and family, which matters most to him.

"And my guess is that the considerations of his family became very pressing and that was what made him think things over very carefully. That is my guess."

Lord Bragg made the comments during a television interview with the ITV news channel's Alastair Stewart programme.

There was previous speculation that Mr Blair was undergoing a so-called "wobble" for political rather than personal reasons. It is well documented that Mr Blair's personal ratings for trust have dropped sharply since his stance over Iraq. The harrowing images of prisoner abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison also caused deep embarrassment. However, the peer's comments mark the first occasion that a family friend has openly claimed that the Prime Minister had considered quitting while raising domestic issues.

However, Lord Bragg also emphasised that despite Mr Blair's family commitments, he was none the less determined to fulfil his duties.

"First of all I'm no expert on the private life of Tony Blair. I mean I call myself a friend and I'm certainly a supporter of the Labour party first of all. I'm no expert on the private life of Tony Blair."

He added: "What people don't seem to get is how very, very strong he is," he said. "And how very determined he is to help make this country a better place, as is Gordon Brown. And he thinks that he is on track to do that. But yes I think he was under colossal strain, you could see it. And my guess was that it was domestic rather than anything else. Domestic not in any sense about him and Cherie. I have never seen a couple get on as good as those two, it is not that."

The remarks followed yesterday's revelations by The Independent political commentator Steve Richards that Mr Blair had discussed with Gordon Brown last November the option of quitting because his standing was so low after the war on Iraq that it was damaging the party.

Mr Blair asked the Chancellor to support him for a year with a view to a smooth hand-over, possibly before this year's party conference. Mr Blair contemplated making an early announcement this summer of his plan to step down as public trust in him plummeted. But he changed his mind when he survived the Butler report on the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war. The comments made by Lord Bragg appeared to take Westminster by surprise last night.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I must admit it took us by surprise as much as anybody else. I don't know why he said it."

On the question of whether Mr Blair had considered quitting, his spokesman said that he had "nothing to add" to the Prime Minister's comment at a press conference in July when he was asked whether he had ever thought about moving on during his 10 years as leader. Mr Blair had responded: "No."

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