Mon, May 01, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Blair's government floundering in wake of scandals


British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government sunk low in the esteem of the British public as key ministers clung to their jobs at the weekend in the face of personal and political embarassments.

A new poll showed that Blair's personal ratings have hit a record low as most British voters see his once invincible Labour Party as "sleazy and incompetent" and many want heads to roll since a furor erupted last week.

Pressure has mounted since Wednesday when Blair's deputy John Prescott admitted to having an affair, Home Secretary Charles Clarke apologized for failing to deport foreign convicts, and nurses jeered Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

The Mail on Sunday published salacious details from the diaries of Tracey Temple, Prescott's secretary with whom he had a two-year adulterous affair.

Among details revealed to the newspapaper, Temple told how regular sexual encounters took place in his office with the door open while other civil servants worked outside.

And on other occasions they took place in Prescott's taxpayer-funded apartment. She also said her lover interrupted his official business to caress her or engage in sexual banter.

No damaging state secrets were revealed, however.

In a statement, Prescott claimed that much of Temple's account was "simply untrue," said he would take the issue up with the Press Complaints Commission and accused her of being motivated by money.

But he admitted that he had "acted stupidly" and appealed for privacy so that he and his wife Pauline could try to rebuild their marriage.

Publicist Max Clifford has said that Temple was set to receive well over ?100,000 (US$182,500) for her story.

Temple said she decided to give her side of the story after complaining that the government had "hung her out to dry" and that the media had unfairly portrayed her as a "siren."

Some 200 police officers meanwhile kept up their massive manhunt for the most dangerous among more than 1,023 foreign criminals who had been released into British society instead of being considered for deportation.

It amounted to a race against time to prevent them from offending again.

Clarke said on Friday that five of the most serious offenders had gone on to commit drugs and violence offenses. Another two had been accused of rape, with one of the cases occurring after ministers were made aware of the situation.

The news of those offending again fueled calls for him to resign.

Faced with the risk of an even stronger public backlash if more convicts offend again, Blair declined to guarantee that Clarke would hang onto his job in an interview published in the News of the World newspaper.

"I don't think I'm going to speculate. It depends on what happens, what the reasons are," Blair said.

In a YouGov poll published in the Sunday Times newspaper, some 57 percent of people surveyed since Wednesday said the Labour Party was "sleazy and incompetent."

Blair's personal rating slipped to its lowest level since he took over as the party leader in 1994, with 64 percent saying he was doing badly and just 33 percent thinking that he was doing well.

Of those surveyed, 48 percent now want Prescott sacked, while some 53 percent want Clarke to get the axe, and 51 percent of the voters want Hewitt to resign.

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