Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blair Seems to Be Winning the War

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blair Seems to Be Winning the War

Article excerpt

Tony Blair last night appeared to be winning the propaganda war over top-up fees as two North MPs distanced themselves from the backbench rebels.

Eleven Labour MPs from the region had been among 157 who signed a Commons motion opposing the Bill to allow universities to charge students up to pounds 3,000 a year.

But two, David Clelland and Denis Murphy, hinted yesterday that they would vote with the Government when the Bill has its second reading in the Commons on January 27.

It followed a major propaganda offensive yesterday by Mr Blair and Education Secretary Charles Clarke, insisting there was "no plan B".

Mr Blair said in a keynote speech to senior academics: "Our higher education proposals mark a radical extension of opportunity. They are probably the most progressive university reforms ever presented to Parliament.

"With each day that passes, I am more confident we can win this argument."

Tyne Bridge MP Mr Clelland told The Journal that while he still opposed top-up fees, he would try to get the Bill amended in committee rather than oppose it at second reading: "Provided amendments can be moved at the committee stage I would normally support a Bill at second reading."

Wansbeck MP Mr Murphy said he had been impressed by some of the recent concessions offered by Mr Clarke.

"I am still not 100pc convinced, but things are moving in the right direction as far as I am concerned," he said.

But diehard opponents of the measure rejected suggestions that the rebellion was crumbling and hinted that the two MPs had not been on the list of "definites" who are considered certain to vote against the Bill.

The list, drawn up by organisers of the rebellion, includes at least four North-East MPs: Newcastle MPs Nick Brown, Jim Cousins and Doug Henderson and Durham North MP Kevan Jones.

Mr Henderson said there was no sign that the rebellion was crumbling and that the so-called "definites" remained "very, very firm".

One of the rebel leaders, Ian Gibson, admitted that around 30 MPs were "wobbling" but said that 107 remained solid in their determination to vote down the measure.

It will take only 81 Labour MPs to vote against the Bill for the Government to lose its majority.

Mr Blair has hinted in the past that if that happens, he will resign as prime minister, although he attempted to row back from that position earlier this week.

The potential threat to his premiership is heightened by the fact that Lord Hutton is set to deliver his report on the David Kelly affair two days after the top-up fees vote.

However, Labour whips are now expected to urge MPs to back the Government over the fees plan, rather than leave Mr Blair exposed to a "double whammy".

There were reports yesterday that Mr Blair had come to a private deal with Chancellor Gordon Brown to hand over the keys to 10 Downing Street in 2007. …

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