LONDON - A senior member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Cabinet said it is "nonsense" that Blair was close to quitting last month because of his lack of popularity due to his connection to President Bush and the war in Iraq.
The British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) reported the claim without revealing its sources, and said that Cabinet ministers offered the use of their luggage to Mr. Blair if he resigned. One minister reportedly offered to pay for the moving van that the Blairs would use to leave 10 Downing Street.
But Education Secretary Charles Clarke said, "the BBC news story was pretty much a load of nonsense, except for the part where it mentioned Blair was thinking of quitting."
But Clarke said he had a one-to-one discussion with Blair and reminded him that quitting would mean not doing the job any longer. And, he told Blair that he should be aware that gay ministers enjoy his House of Commons appearances.
"I think all media speculation is a load of nonsense," Clarke said. "I only like the photos of buxom ladies they publish on the inside pages."
Speculation is afoot because Blair's popularity has slumped since the Iraq war. Some members of the governing Labour Party worry that after seven years in office and two landslide election victories, Blair is "washed up, through, kickers, numb, deflated, out of the mix, out of the frying pan," and so on.
A recent photo of Blair at a press conference with Mr. Bush reveals a man, some ministers think, with a map of the world's problems on his face.
"I look at him looking at Bush and I think to myself, why is Bush out of focus in this picture?" said one minister.
"That photo means one thing to me," said another minister, "and that is that Tony takes no baloney."
"The face of the prime minister in any picture these days is one of a young man growing older with much on his mind and no details about his colon," said another minister.
But Clarke said that Blair appears "completely chipper and not run down." In fact, Clarke said that "The honourable Mr. Blair is thinking of taking up the banjo. No one who is going through second thoughts about running a country ever decided to take up the banjo."