Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Any Other Business

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Any Other Business

Article excerpt

Byline: By Peter Young

It gets worse and worse for the Government, and some Labour MPs in marginal seats must be suffering a severe attack of the collywobbles as the next general election looms. The latest clanger over Iraqgate which led to a grovelling apology after the Prime Minister's spokesman Tom Kelly described the dead Government weapons expert Dr David Kelly as a 'Walter Mitty'' character has once again focused attention on the culture of spin at Downing Street. One North East MP told me quite frankly that if there was a more effective opposition, Labour would be in trouble at the next election, probably less than two years away now. As voters become disenchanted with Tony Blair, some Labour supporters even believe Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith could be their best weapon at the next election believing that under Kenneth Clarke, or even Michael Howard or Michael Portillo, the Tories would have been much tougher opponents. That remains to be seen and Labour certainly isn't counting any chickens. Most expect Labour's massive 164-seat majority to be slashed. Tough battles lie ahead in constituencies such as Tynemouth, Stockton South, and Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East, which Labour won from the Conservatives during the 1997 landslide. 'If Tony Blair wants to re-invent himself, he has to get rid of the culture of spin,'' said my source. 'Downing Street is blundering from one crisis to another. These are unelected and unaccountable people which is what annoys a lot of MPs. After the Hutton Inquiry heads will need to roll. 'The problem in the Labour Party is that for the last few years we've thought we were invincible and now we are getting a dose of reality, which isn't a bad thing.'' It's a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of a Prime Minister who seemed to walk on water after two stunning election victories. The row between the Government and the BBC over the Iraq dossier culminating in the tragic death of Dr Kelly and Labour's continuing problems over the public services, not least plans for foundation hospitals, add up to a rough ride for Mr Blair at the party conference in Bournemouth in the autumn, with time running out for him to steady the ship. …

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