On may 2, 1997, Tony Blair first trod the threshold of 10 Downing St., carrying with him a hefty parliamentary majority and sackloads of public goodwill. Ten years and two days later, he'll stand in front of the iconic black door to acknowledge and downplay a fresh set of poll results to a country made skeptical by years of spin, and recently a police investigation into accusations that honors such as seats in the House of Lords may have been exchanged for party donations. Blair's Labour Party privately expects results of the May 3 elections to municipal posts and the Scottish and Welsh legislatures to be eye-wateringly bad.
Blair has said he will leave office before his party's annual congress in September. A likely timetable would have him announce his resignation after the May results, with his successor chosen within six weeks. The favorite is still Gordon Brown, remolded from grouchy but prudent Chancellor of the Exchequer to warm and intuitive international statesman, although pressure is building for a serious challenger to make it a contest rather than a coronation. King Gordon won't waste time prancing about in his new robes. Westminster sources say he plans to launch immediately a 100-day program of startling reforms and initiatives designed to put his stamp on government and to erase memories of Blair.
But Brown, 56, won't find it easy to exorcise the ghost of his beaming predecessor. Provided the investigation into the alleged peddling of peerages leaves Blair unscathed, he will leave office only to start crisscrossing the globe and exponentially enlarging his carbon footprint as a green campaigner and conscience-for-hire. He still enjoys star status across the Atlantic. Out of office, his relationship with the U.S. could become very special indeed.