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Blair makes a last stand
[May 06, 2006]

Blair makes a last stand

(Yorkshire Post Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)Voters flee from floundering party THE butchery which Tony Blair wreaked on his Cabinet yesterday is nothing compared with the bloody mauling that Labour received from the voters.

No doubt the Prime Minister, in a typical piece of media management, hoped that, by waiting until the end of the week to purge Charles Clarke of his job and John Prescott of his responsibilities, he would limit the damage done to Labour at the local elections and capture today's headlines for himself at the same time.

Yet nothing Mr Blair does can conceal the reality that this is a Government in disarray and that this has been acknowledged by the voters.

Even the decisions he made yesterday, draconian though they were, are signs of his declining authority. The vigorous nature of this reshuffle only highlighted the way in which the Prime Minister has ducked harsh decisions in the past.

Yet this was a purge forced on Mr Blair by his party's plunging electoral fortunes and by the manifest failings of his various Ministers. For there is no doubt that the Prime Minister has been let down by those he appointed, from the incompetence of former Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong in failing to enforce discipline on the parliamentary party, to the inability of Ruth Kelly to pilot Mr Blair's supposedly keynote education reforms. And this is before the misdeeds of Mr Clarke and Mr Prescott are even considered.

Indeed, the Prime Minister's limited room for manoeuvre is highlighted by the fact that he can find no one better than ex-Defence Secretary John Reid to take over at the Home Office. Meanwhile, his fractured relationship with the Chancellor means that he needs Mr Prescott to stay on as political fixer, even though the Deputy Prime Minister's record in office is one of failure, incompetence and crass behaviour.

A year since he returned to Downing Street in triumph, Mr Blair is floundering, increasingly desperate to see through reforms which he knows he should have completed much earlier and reminded increasingly - if at no other time, then at least every time he sets eyes on Mr Prescott - of New Labour's growing record of underachievement.

The Cabinet fashioned by Mr Blair yesterday surely represents his last hope of rectifying this.

The Government's turmoil has even overshadowed an encouraging set of poll results for David Cameron's Conservatives and a dismal showing by the Liberal Democrats.

Yet, while the Tories were the main winners on Thursday, with their best set of results since 1992, Mr Cameron has no room for complacency.

Most of the party's successes were recorded in London and the South, traditional Tory heartlands. And, while Mr Cameron will use triumphs in the West Midlands as evidence that his party is broadening its electoral appeal, the Conservatives could, and should, have done even better, given Labour's inherent unpopularity.

That the party, in spite of a concerted electoral effort, still does not have a single councillor in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle is evidence that it has still to make a national breakthrough.

Furthermore, it must be remembered that, although the Conservatives secured about 40 per cent of the vote, this is not enough to form a parliamentary majority and there were no elections at all in Scotland and Wales, regions largely devoid of any Tory presence.

Yet Mr Cameron can derive considerable pleasure from the fact that the Lib Dems largely stood still. And, while Sir Menzies Campbell may be content to attribute this to the party's own leadership difficulties, this is a lame excuse, given that Charles Kennedy's downfall in January is already a distant memory.

Instead, Sir Menzies should be deeply troubled by the number of voters who appear to have been acutely aware of his party's financial profligacy in local government. He must now act decisively if the Lib Dems are not to lose further support.

And all main parties will also have to react to the alarming rise in support for the British National Party and address the question of why a blatantly racist manifesto received so much support.

The BNP may only have had limited success in this region, in comparison to the 11 councillors elected in Barking. But the party only narrowly failed to win several wards locally, a fact which, in conjunction with the low turnout, highlights the public's despair at the continued failure of mainstream politicians to connect with the concerns of ordinary voters.

This is a challenge they must confront head-on if the BNP is to be silenced and their own fortunes revived.

Identity crisis School points to the future MANY will sympathise with the concerns of parents after Ilkley Grammar School started using biometric technology to record the details of those pupils who had paid for school trips.

Given that biometrics will be incorporated into identity cards, should the Government proceed with such a scheme, it is understandable that some view the Ilkley initiative with suspicion.

Yet, provided such technology is used within reason, parents should have nothing to fear, especially given that the use of biometrics will become even more commonplace in combating identity fraud and other crimes.

For, as Ilkley Grammar has demonstrated, such a scheme can save schools, and other organisations, both time and money. Orwellian suspicions of totalitarianism are understandable, but biometrics are here to stay, whether we like it or not.

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