Prominent politicians, commentators and gay activists have spoken in praise of Tony Blair, who announced today that he is to retire as soon as the Labour party select his successor.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“Without a doubt, one of New Labour’s lasting legacies will be the contribution that Tony Blair has made to equality for lesbian and gay people.

“It was unthinkable ten years ago that we’d have had civil partnership by now or even that the Prime Minister would have attended a Stonewall Dinner as he did in March.

“And these changes haven’t just impacted upon lesbian and gay people.

“I think they’ve given a signal to wider society about the sort of nation Britain wants to be in the 21st century, progressive and respectful of difference.”

Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell also had warm words for Mr Blair, mixed with criticism.

“Under Tony Blair, anti-gay laws that had existed for decades, or even centuries, were repealed,” Mr Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk

“This would not have happened if the Tories had remained in power.

“Congratulations and thanks to the Labour government – and to MPs from all parties who backed gay law reform.

“We should not forget that Tony Blair was sometimes reluctant to repeal homophobic legislation.

“Soon after he was elected Prime Minister in 1997, Labour ditched its pre-election pledge to scrap the unequal age of consent and to end the ban on gays in the armed forces.

“These reforms only happened because the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this discrimination was illegal.

“Likewise, outlawing homophobic discrimination in the workplace only happened because the European Union insisted on it.

“Previously, in 1998, Blair’s government three times blocked legislation to protect lesbians and gay men against workplace discrimination.

“Labour and Tony Blair are still blocking gay human rights. They support the ban on same-sex marriage, deport gay asylum seekers and refuse to prohibit incitement to homophobic hatred. The battle for queer equality isn’t finished yet. We still have a way to go.”

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone praised the Prime Minister’s record in Northern Ireland.

“I think the most important single thing, with the passage of time, will be finally bringing a resolution to the problems in Northern Ireland because it’s 800 years and millions have died with famines, murders, assassins,” he told BBC London 94.9.

“I think that in the same way that perhaps one of the biggest long-term successes is bringing peace to Ireland, the most catastrophic error is the war in Iraq.

“It has, in a sense, created a whole new generation of terrorists.”

Former Labour leader Lord Kinnock told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme:

“The one word that has to be associated with Tony is ‘winner’, not just of the unprecedented succession of three elections won by the Labour Party with large majorities, but also a winner because of his utter insistence and his endurance in Northern Ireland.

“A winner also in the way in which over 10 years the Government which he has led has produced conditions in which people expect stable affluence. That is unprecedented.”

Veteran Labour politician Tony Benn said Mr Blair had presided over a “rich man’s Government.”

“The people who have done best in Britain in the last 10 years are the rich. There are 68 billionaires – three times as many there were before. At the bottom, it is harder,” he told the Today programme.

“I think it is not surprising that Mrs Thatcher, when asked her greatest achievement, said New Labour.”

Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell told BBC News 24.

“He has been a friend, he has been steadfast in the face of negative public opinion, and in the face of crises he’s stood steady. And we could always count on him.”

Director of Friends of the Earth Tony Juniper, commenting on Mr Blair’s record on the environment, said: “Tony Blair has made a significant positive contribution to the global debate on climate change, but this has been undermined by his failure to tackle emissions at home.

“Despite repeated promises of substantial cuts in carbon dioxide his climate strategy has failed and UK emissions have actually risen under his leadership.”

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament chairman Kate Hudson said: “Many people were genuinely enthused by the promise of an ‘ethical foreign policy’ but the reality has been that Tony Blair has taken this country into numerous wars, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and with the renewal of Trident, threatens literally hundreds of millions more.”

The Confederation of British Industry were more generous to the Prime Minister.

Director-General Richard Lambert said:

“Before he became Prime Minister, Tony Blair used to say that although he didn’t expect business to love a Labour Government, he was determined that the relationship should not be one of fear and loathing – as had been the case in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“He has succeeded in this goal, and moved the party firmly away from the wealth destroying policies of the past.

“More broadly, he has started a process of badly needed reforms in the public services, but it’s been a case of too little, too late.

“As a result, business people feel that much of the massive increase in public spending over recent years has been wasted.”

Mr Blair is to spend much of his last six weeks in office out of the UK. He goes to Paris tomorrow to meet the French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy. He has at least four other trips planned between now and June 27th.