say it ain't so.

these last few years have not been very good for prime minister tony blair. between iraq, the 'downing street memo' and upset within his own party, blair has taken his fair share of hits. and now it looks like he is being forced into premature retirement by rebel mps and the chancellor. blair, who was george w. bush's bff (that's best friends forever for those of you who don't read the gossip blogs) during the early iraq war years, has acknowledged that the political squabling and confusion over the last few days "has not been our finest hour, to be frank".

blair was like bert to bush's ernie. he was like damon to bush's affleck. he made bush look good just by standing next to him. bush would say something in his traditional caveman speak, and blair would repeat it in a more... understandable way. to me, blair also seemed like a superhero in training. i recall back during the whole kosovo campaign, if blair had his way, he'd have parachuted into kosovo and had fisticuffs with slobodan milosevic. or, at least, he seemed to have the exhuberance of wanting to do good.

well, it's over for him. almost. in twelve months it will be. i think the only other political leader that had such a long farewell, was canadian prime minister jean chreitien who announced that he wouldn't seek a fourth mandate in august 2003, nearly a year and a half before he actually stepped down as prime minister of canada.

so long blair; your wonderous exhuberance will be missed. yeah, you made a lot of mistakes, and yeah, you did some shifty stuff, but unlike george w. bush, i think... i felt, that at most times, your heart was in the right place.

read on for the guardian unlimited article.

In public, apologies and harmony. In private, a deal.

Possible February announcement, quit in May and new PM in place by June

Patrick Wintour
Friday September 8, 2006
The Guardian

A sullen and potentially unstable truce was struck yesterday between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown after the prime minister reluctantly bowed to the demands of the chancellor and rebel MPs by promising to step down within 12 months.

Though neither man elaborated on the timetable for his departure and insisted no secret deal had been reached, it is understood that both sides will now accept Mr Blair announcing that he will step down in February. This would see Mr Blair leaving Downing Street in early May having achieved 10 years in office, but still giving enough time for his successor to make an impact before parliament goes into its long summer recess.

Until then, Mr Blair will still have to face opponents within the parliamentary party who claim it is untenable for him to try to lead Labour in May's Scottish and Welsh elections. But the prime minister would prefer to stay on until then, and will use a speech tomorrow to reveal what he wants to achieve in his final months.

The week's tumult at Westminster, which left Mr Blair accusing his chancellor of blackmail, appeared to subside yesterday when the two men broke their silence and gave conciliatory statements.

Mr Blair apologised for the last few days, admitting the bitter infighting "has not been our finest hour, to be frank".

In his brief statement, made during a visit to a London school, Mr Blair said: "I think what is important now is that we understand that it's the interests of the country that come first and we move on. I would have preferred to do this in my own way but it has been pretty obvious from what many of my cabinet colleagues have said earlier in the week.

"The next party conference in a couple of weeks will be my last party conference as party leader, the next TUC conference next week will be my last TUC - probably to the relief of both of us. But I am not going to set a precise date now. I don't think that's right. I will do that at a future date and I'll do it in the interests of the country and depending on the circumstances of the time."

He also had a message for his rebel MPs, saying: "It's the public that comes first and it's the country that matters, and we can't treat the public as irrelevant bystanders in a subject as important as who is their prime minister."

Hours before Mr Blair's effective surrender, Mr Brown started to bury the hatchet, saying: "When I met the prime minister yesterday, I said to him - as I've said on many occasions and I repeat today - it is for him to make the decision. This cannot and should not be about private arrangements but what is in the best interests of our party and, most of all, the best interests of our country."

Mr Brown's allies, who battled with Mr Blair for a specific departure date, described the prime minister's climbdown as a "welcome first step".

Welsh and Scottish MPs are now likely privately to agitate for him to be pushed out early next year.

A first public test of the Labour mood will come when Mr Blair speaks to the TUC on Tuesday after a three-day trip to the Middle East.

The Treasury insisted the issue of the precise departure date should be left to one side for some months, and dealt with internally in the party.

Mr Brown also distanced himself from some of his allies such as the former defence minister Doug Henderson who initially responded to Mr Blair's promise to leave within 12 months by saying it changed nothing, and insisting Mr Blair will have to be gone by the beginning of next year.

In the twilight of Mr Blair's premiership, the Treasury is now going to seek close cooperation with No 10 over policy, machinery of government and the party's organisation.