Blair defends record on 10th anniversary
03 May, 2007
LONDON: British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended his record on the 10th anniversary of his accession to power on Wednesday, and urged voters to back his party in local polls this week, when faces a drubbing.
The New Labour leader, who is expected to set out next week exactly when he will step down, listed his government’s achievements and appealed to Scottish voters on the eve of ballots there and crunch votes elsewhere in Britain.
“I will tell him something about what we have achieved together over these last 10 years: economic stability...record investment in public services... more support for pensioners,” he told opposition Conservative party leader David Cameron at his weekly question-and-answer session with lawmakers. “I hope that people vote for England staying together and not for separation tomorrow,” he said, when asked about the threat of Scottish independence posed by the Scottish National Party (SNP).
Voters will go to the polls Thursday across the United Kingdom—in England and Scotland for local councils, in Wales for the Welsh assembly and in Scotland for the 129-member Scottish parliament. Surveys suggest that New Labour, which took office on May 2, 1997 under Blair’s leadership, could lose 600-700 seats overall to the resurgent Conservatives, whose fortunes have been transformed by the dynamic Cameron.
Attention is focusing in particular on Scotland, where the SNP under Alex Salmond is leading New Labour in the polls, and has promised a referendum on independence if elected.
Analysts warn that a rout in the elections could provide a bad omen for a feared further slump in Labour’s fortunes after the charismatic Blair stands down, making way for his dour Scottish finance minister Gordon Brown.
Blair’s decade in power—which followed 18 years in opposition under Margaret Thatcher and her lacklustre successor John Major—has seen a sustained economic boom, helping New Labour to a record third term in office.
But for many, the turning point in his premiership was Blair’s support for the 2003 United States-led invasion of Iraq, a decision now opposed by many Britons which threatens to overshadow the rest of his legacy.
On his anniversary in power Wednesday, Blair again defended his decision to back US President George W. Bush over Iraq.
“It isn’t British or American soldiers that are committing acts of terrorism in Iraq. It is people going there specifically to stop that country’s democracy working,” he told lawmakers. “Our job is to stand up for Iraq and its democracy.”
Blair’s last year in office has also been clouded by a ”cash-for-honours” corruption probe, which has raised serious questions about Blair’s pledge, 10 years ago, to head a ”whiter-than-white” government after years of Tory sleaze.
On Tuesday Blair, who has long refused to publicly endorse his ally-turned-foe Brown, broke his silence and said he would make a ”great prime minister.”
But most observers doubt that there has been a genuine thaw between the two men, long strained by Blair’s alleged reneging on a deal to hand the premiership to Brown after a few years in power.
Now the Iron Chancellor is finally set to get the job he always wanted, but for many it is a poisoned chalice, with some analysts predicting he may well be ousted at the next election by Cameron.