Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Blair's Political Honeymoon Enters Period of Turbulence 'Old Labour' Demands for Minimum Wage Set the Scene for Prime Minister's Next 100 Days in Office

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Blair's Political Honeymoon Enters Period of Turbulence 'Old Labour' Demands for Minimum Wage Set the Scene for Prime Minister's Next 100 Days in Office

Article excerpt

After enjoying the longest honeymoon in British politics since World War II, Tony Blair is bracing himself for a bumpy phase in his premiership.

Analysts forecast that Prime Minister Blair's "New Labour" government, elected on May 1 with a parliamentary majority, will shortly face insistent demands from "old Labour" trade unions to agree to a legally binding national minimum wage. That, says opposition Conservative Party leader William Hague, is something Britain cannot afford.

In addition Blair may need all his political skill and personal charisma in the coming winter as an ailing health service and a seriously underfunded school system pile up demands on scarce tax resources. Also, when he returns this weekend from a month-long vacation in Italy and France, the prime minister, who came to office at the head of a tightly disciplined party, will have to deal with the first signs of disunity and public quarreling within senior Labour ranks. Demands for a minimum hourly wage of 2.42 ($3.84) are high on the agenda of the annual meeting beginning Sept. 8 of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) - the country's umbrella union movement. Militant union leaders such as Bill Morris, the tough-talking leader of the 800,000-strong Transport and General Workers' Union, have warned Blair that they will accept nothing less than a 4.42 ($7) minimum wage. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says he will call for big cash injections into British schools, including pay hikes for his members. Political analyst Michael Gove says Blair has retained personal popularity and a grip on the Labour Party by "adopting something rather close to a presidential style." In the first days of his premiership, word went out from Blair's office that all ministerial speeches had to be cleared in advance by a member of the prime minister's staff. …

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