Blair 'was depressed over Iraq'

New book suggests ex-PM more troubled by invasion than he has admitted
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Indy Politics

Tony Blair told Gordon Brown he planned to quit as Prime Minister after sinking into a deep depression after the Iraq invasion, the latest extract of an explosive book on New Labour reveals today.

The former Prime Minister's morale plummeted between late 2003 and spring 2004 as haunting images of suicide bombings and dead soldiers dominated the news headlines. Andrew Rawnsley's book, The End of the Party, claims that Mr Blair confided to friends that he "spaced out" several times during Prime Minister's Questions and frequently woke in the middle of the night with sweat trickling down the back of his neck.

Yet months after telling Mr Brown and John Prescott of his plans to quit in summer 2004, he reneged on the promise after his wife, Cherie, and close friends talked him out of it. Last month Mr Blair told the Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq that he had "not a regret" about waging war against Saddam Hussein – to the anger of the families of British war dead present.

Yet the claims suggest that Mr Blair was more troubled than he has admitted. The revelations, published in The Observer, follow last week's claims by Mr Rawnsley that Mr Brown's volcanic temper tantrums against staff led to a talking to from Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary.

In a fresh twist to the saga, a tape recording has come to light of Mr Brown's senior foreign affairs adviser, Stewart Wood, telling how he had been roughly shoved aside by the PM on the Downing Street staircase.

The Mail on Sunday published the transcript of a tape of Mr Wood, recorded at a Westminster restaurant last month, in which he says he was "shocked" when Mr Brown used his forearm to shove him.

The account of Mr Blair's depression also claims that the then Prime Minister was mentally worn down by Mr Brown constantly putting pressure on him to go. Mr Blair made clear at a dinner with Mr Brown and Mr Prescott in November 2003, and then in a telephone call to Mr Prescott in spring 2004, that he would step down that summer.

Sally Morgan, Mr Blair's director of government relations, says in the book: "Iraq was a quicksand swallowing him up. The atrocities. Those terrible photos [of Abu Ghraib]. And he started losing people who had supported him throughout. He was stuck in this long dark tunnel and could see no way out of it."

In spring 2004, Mrs Blair, Baroness Morgan and other close allies persuaded Mr Blair not to quit – which in turn incensed Mr Brown.