Thu, May 04, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Blair struggling as local polling day approaches

AFP , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's scandal-hit Labour Party entered a final day of campaigning yesterday a day ahead of key local elections with many predicting heavy losses.

With three of his Cabinet ministers grappling with personal or political difficulties, Blair has tried to shore up support for his Labour Party -- but the bad news keeps coming.

His embattled home secretary, Charles Clarke, was due to face parliament's lower House of Commons to update members of parliament (MPs) on the hunt for foreign criminals who were wrongly not considered for deportation up release, as a new twist made his position all the more precarious.

The Times newspaper's Web site revealed on Tuesday that a Somali, wanted for the killing of a policewoman, was considered for deportation but it was decided that it was too dangerous to send him back to his war-torn homeland.

Mustaf Jama, 25, is suspected of murdering Sharon Beshenivsky while she was investigating reports of a raid on a travel agency in Bradford, northern England, in November last year.

The fatal shooting of a police officer on duty -- a rare event in Britain, particularly when the officer is female -- led to shock around the country.

The Sun, Britain's biggest-selling newspaper, said the scandal of the government's failure to deport "undesirable and dangerous people" such as Jama was growing by the day and called again for Clarke's head.

"It is a disgrace that he is still in his job," the tabloid said. "The government plainly does not understand the depth of public anger over the chaos surrounding this issue."

The disarray over deportation, a sex scandal dogging Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and the booing of Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt at a nurses' conference have left Blair fearing a slump in support at the ballot box. He recently argued that nine days of negative headlines should not overshadow his nine years in office.

Blair was preparing for the weekly prime minister's questions session in parliament at midday, at which the opposition parties will seek to put him and his government on the spot.

The Times newspaper said time was running out for the prime minister to salvage his legacy.

"Blair is surrounded by discredited senior ministers and challenged by an opposition that is renewing itself," the newspaper's editorial read.

"He has no choice but to make quick work of whatever post-election reshuffling he has in mind, then focus relentlessly on four key policy areas" -- namely education, health, pensions and world trade reform.

Poor results in the local elections would increase the pressure on Blair to name the day when he will step down, as he has pledged to do before his third term in office runs out.

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