Sun, Aug 27, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Holiday over, PM Blair returns to face party defections

FEW FRIENDS A UK poll this week showed that only one in five people believe the government is telling the truth about terrorism. Labour's approval rating is 31 percent

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will attempt to regain the political initiative on his return from holiday by demanding a renewed Cabinet drive to meet public concern about terrorism and immigration.

The prime minister was working in Downing Street on Friday after two-and-a-half weeks in the Caribbean, facing dismal poll ratings and evident public scepticism about the government's handling of the terror threat and immigration.

There was growing discontent in his party on several fronts. Thirty-seven party activists in Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett's constituency of Derby South on Friday defected to the Liberal Democrats in protest at his Lebanon policy. The defectors, predominantly Muslims of Pakistani origin, included Mohammed Rawail Peeno, a Labour Party ward chairman, and Masood Akhta, a former city and county councillor.

He was also under pressure to name his departure date, amid reported concern among ministers that the government is "drifting."

The prime minister accepts that terror and immigration are now more important to voters than a stable economic environment and is calling in Cabinet colleagues to tackle them on what he sees as the all-encompassing theme of the "challenges of globalization."

A poll this week showed that only one in five people believed the government was telling the truth about the terror threat; nor did they credit Labour for a decade of economic growth, with 52 percent believing it was not down to Chancellor Gordon Brown.

"In the 1980s and 1990s the public's number one concern was creating a stable economy and high levels of employment -- where this government have made impressive progress," Downing Street said.

"It is now clear ... that concerns around security, immigration and community cohesion are issues that the public demand politicians put to the top of their in-trays," it said.

With some Labour backbenchers demanding that Blair use his speech to the party conference next month to set out a timetable for his departure, he faces a struggle to convince voters that his government has the energy for the challenges he has laid out. The Conservatives reached 40 percent in this week's ICM Research poll for the first time since 1992, while Labour's 31 percent was its second lowest since 1984.

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