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Blair determined to stay on course despite setbacks.

Tony blair yesterday insisted he was determined to push through his Government's agenda on counter-terrorism, pensions and public sector reform, despite a series of setbacks in recent days.

Conservative leader Michael Howard yesterday claimed that David Blunkett's dramatic resignation and the near-defeat of the Government's anti-terror laws in the Commons on Wednesday were clear signs that the Prime Minister's hold on power was slipping away.

And a former minister and close ally of Chancellor Gordon Brown predicted that Mr Blair's radical plans would be blunted by backbench Labour MPs' increasing willingness to rebel.

Even Mr Blair himself acknowledged that he was going through a difficult period, telling yesterday's morning's meeting of his Cabinet, 'Times are tough'.

But yesterday evening he dismissed claims that his authority was ebbing.

Speaking during a visit to a SureStart centre in Manchester, Mr Blair said, 'I've had difficult times before and will have difficult times again.

'But the question is whether doing this (terrorism legislation) is in the interests of the country.

'It's important we get the reforms through on education, on health and on pensions, there's still a lot to do.'

Mr Blair attempted to draw a line under the Blunkett saga, which saw his close ally leave the Cabinet for the second time in a year after admitting breaching ministerial rules on business appointments.

The Prime Minister had urged the former Work and Pensions Secretary to stay, and yesterday he suggested that his misdemeanours were not as great as they were painted in the media.

'The facts when you look into them are very rarely the facts as they appear, and we have just got to move on as a Government,' said Mr Blair.

'I'm not even at this point going to say anything other than I'm proud to call him a friend.

'I'm obviously sorry for David, he is an exceptional and remarkable person who overcame the most extreme difficulties.'

Following the dramatic scenes in the Commons on Wednesday night, when the Government's 66-seat majority was slashed to a single vote by backbench rebels, Mr Howard said that Mr Blair had lost control over his own party.

'What we saw yesterday was the authority of the Prime Minister diminishing to vanishing point,' Mr Howard said.

'This is not a man who can command the confidence of his own party.'

And former Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson said, 'The backbenchers, for the first time in a serious way, have tasted blood, and they see with the reduced majority they can have a say in the shaping of legisla- tion.' .
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 4, 2005
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