Tony Blair has said that he intends to stay on as Prime Minister for at least another year, defying fresh Labour demands that he should leave Downing Street this autumn.
Asked during the G8 summit in St Petersburg whether he would attend the world leaders' next annual gathering in Germany in a year's time, he told the BBC's Politics Show: "I've made it clear all the way through, I carry on doing the job and so I look forward to next year's G8 of course."
His remarks will be seen as an intention to remain in power beyond his 10th anniversary as Prime Minister next May, when most Labour MPs had expected him to depart in the light of his promise to give his successor "ample time" before the next general election.
Mr Blair insisted he did not spend all his time "obsessing" about his departure date, but said: "You try to make sure that you manage the situation in the interests of the country, and of course in the interests of your own political party."
Some Blair aides want him to hand over the crown at Labour's annual conference in September 2007. That would enable his successor - and a new deputy party leader to follow John Prescott - to be elected during next summer, mostly while Parliament is not sitting. But such a timetable would dismay Labour MPs and activists in Scotland and Wales, who fear they will lose power at the elections next May for the Edinburgh parliament and the Cardiff assembly unless Mr Blair has announced his departure by that time.
His remarks suggest the Prime Minister may reject pressure to make his intentions clear when he addresses this year's Labour conference in Manchester in September. That could provoke a fresh bout of wrangling with Gordon Brown, the overwhelming front-runner to succeed him.
Yesterday the Brown camp was relaxed about Mr Blair's comments, believing they were "innocuous" and that any over-interpretation of them was just "a bit of wishful thinking" by ultra-Blairites.
Allies insisted that the Prime Minister was trying to limit speculation about his future, adding that he would have only fuelled it if he had said he might not attend next year's G8 summit.
But his apparent intention raised eyebrows given the belief among Labour MPs that the "cash for honours" affair could shorten his Downing Street tenure. Mr Blair acknowledged that people in his party were "getting nervous" about it, but told them: "Look at the fundamentals, on the fundamentals on who has the right policies for the country, there is one political party with serious policies and that's ours."
He added: "The fact of the matter is this Government has got a very, very strong sense of purpose and direction. There may be all the noises off that come and collide with that message getting across to people, but if you take policy this is why I'm ultimately very confident about the Labour Government."
Lord Hattersley, Labour's former deputy leader, said Mr Blair should depart at this autumn's conference. "If he did that I think he'd go out on a high note in the party, I think that'll ripple out through the country," he told GMTV's Sunday programme. "The longer he stays on, the more damaging it is for him as well as the party, in my view."
Lord Hattersley said it would be "impossible to put new life" into the party if Mr Blair stayed on into next year. "Everything is held in the balance, we're all holding our breath, we're all waiting for the clock to strike and until that happens it's impossible to do a reinvigoration job that is so necessary," he said.
He added that Mr Brown was "the ideal next leader" but did not want Mr Blair pushed out "partly for his sake, partly for the party's sake, partly for his successor's sake. The Labour Party is very bad at pushing bad leaders."
Simon Hughes, president of the Liberal Democrats, said: "Every month that passes looks more and more like the end of the Blair era. Good government for Britain and our reputation abroad requires a prime minister with a future not a past and a prime minister who commands authority in his party as well as the support of the British people."Reuse content