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Opinion: Blair must listen to the people.

SO Tony Blair wants to beat Margaret Thatcher's record of 11 years as Prime Minister.

Yes, Cherie does not fancy swapping Downing Street for a bungalow yet.

To achieve that, he must recognise that his biggest threat is not from Chancellor Gordon Brown.

It is people power which could loosen his grip on government.

It could slash Labour's 247 majority in the Commons.

At worst, it could allow the Nationalists in through the back door at Holyrood.

Mr Blair and First Minister Jack McConnell are taking a massive risk if they ignore the voices of ordinary people on hospital closures.

With a General Election likely in less than eight months, Amicus leader Derek Simpson warns that Labour voters will look elsewhere because Mr Blair has become 'semi-detached'.

The Tories may not offer a viable alternative but the Lib Dems and single-issue campaigners are waiting to mop up the disaffected.

This is no false warning. Just ask former Labour MSP Brian Fitzpatrick, Scotland's first victim of a hospital campaign candidate.

No one believed Dr Jean Turner would claim the scalp of the Strathkelvin and Bearsden politician.

But her 2003 campaign to stop the closure of Stobhill Hospital earned her a place at Holyrood.

She may not have much to say about non-health issues.

But she is proof that local people can have a major influence on national politics.

With the threat of centralisation of vital hospital services, Labour MPs are next in campaigners' sights.

The Scottish Health Alliance Party are not extremists hell-bent on creating mayhem.

They are ordinary people driven into front-line politics through fear and frustration as lifeline hospitals face closure.

Health minister Malcolm Chisholm faces a roasting from Labour MPs over the issue of threatened hospitals.

They do not underestimate this threat - nine or ten of them are in for a very bumpy ride from members of this NHS rainbow coalition.

Back in 1997, that was inconceivable as Tony Blair romped to power promising to overhaul Labour's beloved NHS.

Seven years later his party is losing the argument on health.

The result could be a short sharp shock at the ballot box.

Time to take the pulse of the nation, Mr Blair.
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Title Annotation:Comment
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 12, 2004
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