Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Labour Leader in Britain Alarms British Conservatives

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Labour Leader in Britain Alarms British Conservatives

Article excerpt

PRIME Minister John Major and his ruling Conservatives are facing a powerful challenge in the shape of Tony Blair, the newly elected leader of the opposition Labour Party.

In an attempt to lessen the threat to a government suffering what many observers see as the inevitable fatigue of holding office continuously for 15 years, Mr. Major ordered changes to his Cabinet the day before Mr. Blair's landslide victory July 21.

But the prime minister's personal standing remains at an all-time low, while Blair's appears to be soaring. A Gallup poll yesterday showed nearly three times as many voters thought Blair would make a better leader than Major. And in a bid to swing behind him the 10 to 15 percent of middle class "floating" voters, essential to a Labour victory at the next election, Blair has begun outlining policies far removed from orthodox socialism.

Blair, succeeding John Smith who died in May, has warned trade unions to expect no favors. He told them bluntly that "the ... image traditionally associated with the Labour Party" is a thing of the past.

In speeches during the leadership campaign, Blair promised to create jobs for the 2.8 million unemployed by wedding private capital to government initiatives over a broad range of industry.

In another departure from old-fashioned socialist dogma, Blair consistently stresses the need to be tough on crime, but is careful to add that current crime levels would not be so high if Major's government had done more to combat unemployment.

Facing a youthful Labour leader who has what Conservatives concede is an attractive television image, Major last week named Jeremy Hanley as Conservative Party chairman, dropped four Cabinet ministers, and promoted more than a dozen younger men and women to middle-rank government posts.

But questioned by Gallup 24 hours after Blair's victory, 61 percent of respondents said Blair would make a better prime minister, while 23 percent favored Major. …

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