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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Pressed to Quit Over Funds

LONDON -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair faced growing pressure on Monday to step down over a donations scandal that has tarnished his reputation and boosted calls for finance minister Gordon Brown to take the reins.

Right-leaning newspapers have been clamoring for Blair to go for days, but on Monday The Guardian, long seen as the institutional voice of the center-left, joined the chorus. "Nine years is long enough," it said in an editorial. "There is no excuse for foot-dragging, no excuse for trading on the patience of his party, the country or his successor."

The latest "cash for favors" scandal to hit Blair's government blew up after it was disclosed that rich businessmen had been nominated for seats in the upper house of Parliament after lending the Labour Party large sums to bankroll the 2005 election campaign.

Most big political parties in Britain depend on loans, and Blair did not break any law by not declaring them. Under current rules, only donations to parties have to be made public.

But what irks some Labour lawmakers is that their party treasurer and some senior ministers did not know about the ?14 million ($25 million) received, fueling allegations that Blair's inner circle was running a secret slush fund.

In response to the furor, Lord Falconer, the Labour minister for constitutional affairs, said on Monday that the government would review the law on loans for party funding.

"It's important that we make sure there are proper protections in place," he told BBC Radio. "That is why we are proposing today that we use the bill that is currently going through Parliament in order to amend the law about loans."

Blair said he would not fight a fourth election, due by mid-2010, before winning his third term in 2005 -- albeit with a slashed majority, partly due to opposition over the Iraq war. However, most analysts expect him to stay on for several years to push through his public service reform agenda and then hand over to Brown shortly before the next election.

But he is already fighting a rebellion within party ranks over his school reforms plan: The bill only passed a key hurdle in Parliament last week thanks to opposition Conservative Party votes when 52 Labour lawmakers rebelled.

Analysts said the loan spat was more damaging than the party revolt because Blair had pledged to be "whiter than white" when he came to office in 1997 and because he was personally involved.

"This is far more dangerous to Blair than whether or not he had to rely on Conservative votes for the education bill. It's too close to him," said John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

The loan scandal is also hurting Blair in the opinion polls. A YouGov survey published on Sunday put his approval rating at 36 percent, the lowest since he came to power. However, Labour's standing is solid. Polls released on Sunday showed Blair's party was still ahead of the Conservatives, despite a mini-revival under new leader David Cameron.

The Conservatives are shy about making noise about loans because they depend on similar funding, analysts said.

"Blair has probably lost some friends on this issue, and it makes him vulnerable if indeed the Labour Party becomes electorally unpopular," Curtice said.

"But so far, there is no evidence that the most recent events have done any damage to Labour's standing in the polls."