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Political column.

Byline: By Chris Moncrieff

The Prime Minister should watch his back. Whatever the rights and wrongs are of his stance on the Middle East crisis, the unrest about his performance is now spreading from his own back benches in the Commons to his colleagues on the Government front bench.

His closeness to President Bush is not, his critics are constantly saying, the same as having the ability to influence the White House.

The two leaders emerged for their press conference in Washington the other day, singing from the same hymn sheet, expressing concern for the hundreds of civilian casualties and the misery suffered by thousands more.

But the question of an immediate ceasefire, so earnestly desired by most of the rest of the world, was carefully avoided.

Everyone knows that if the US told Israel to stop the bombardment at once, Israel would comply immediately.

But Bush and Blair kept talking about the framework that they say must be set up to achieve a lasting peace settlement.

Meanwhile, the fighting goes on and the bombs continue to drop and more innocent people die.

The Prime Minister must now be alarmed (to put it mildly) that the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, now the Leader of the Commons, appears to have stepped out of line by opening up a revolt against Mr Blair's handling of the situation.

Straw has described Israel's response as "disproportionate" and accused Israel of escalating the crisis.

Meanwhile, the new Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, is saying she is going ahead with her caravan holiday in France despite the crisis.

Well, why not? She plainly has no influence on what is going on, whether she is at her desk in the Foreign Office or supping red wine in a roadside French bar.

Perhaps Bush and Blair are right and perhaps Blair does have influence over the President.

But the "yo Blair" conversation at the G8 summit in St Petersburg did not give the impression that the President thinks very highly of our Prime Minister.

What seems terrible is that the lives of more innocent people have to be sacrificed while the diplomats rack their brains to find a solution.

THE MP of the year should be Angus McNeil, Scottish Nationalist member for the Western Isles.

Although he entered Parliament only at the last election, it was he alone who set the political scene alight over the cash for coronets affair.

It was McNeil, a crofter, who unearthed the scandal in such an effective way that the Metropolitan Police have taken up the case. At least one high-profile figure has been arrested.

Now cross-bencher the Countess of Mar, a deputy speaker of the House of Lords, has entered the fray.

She said those who had ostensibly paid for their peerages had done little more than rubber-stamp the party line.

If Britain is going to accuse more countries (it has done so already) of running corrupt election campaigns, it should start by cleaning out its own stables.

FORMER Labour welfare minister Frank Field (he was the one told to think the unthinkable and was promptly sacked when he did so) has spoken out bravely against the Government's shambolic immigration policies.

He says, rightly, that this is not a race issue but one simply about numbers.

As more and more immigrants move into already overcrowded areas, tensions, he warns, are bound to rise.

But despite Home Secretary John Reid's blustering words, no-one seems to be taking any notice.

Field seems to have more common sense in his little finger than the entire Cabinet put together. But that doesn't mean to say that anyone will listen to him.

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2006
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