Europe gangs up on Blair

THE Prime Minister faces a massive realignment of politics in the European Union as the consequences of the Socialist Workers' Party victory in the Spanish general election are digested.

THE Prime Minister faces a massive realignment of politics in the European Union as the consequences of the Socialist Workers' Party victory in the Spanish general election are digested.

For a "normal" Labour government, the victory of a left-wing party would be a cause for great celebration. But Tony Blair's New Labour has anything but a traditional left internationalist outlook, and he aligned himself with Republican President George W. Bush in the United States, the right-wing Spanish government of former phalangist Jose-Maria Aznar, and Poland in pursuing the war against Iraq.

The majority of Spaniards detested the war, and the Madrid bombing outrage just days before Spain's general election reminded voters that their Government had put them at risk by supporting the invasion of Iraq.

Aznar was flung out on his ear, to be replaced by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialist, who immediately pledged to pull troops out of Iraq.


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But as Mr Blair spoke to Zapatero this week before the Madrid memorial service for the bomb victims, he knew that Spain would embark in a new direction in EU politics that would plunge him into a nightmare scenario for the European Parliament elections in June.

The Socialist victory will change relations in Europe. Aznar was one of the main opponents of the Franco-German axis gradually dominating EU politics but Zapatero is an enthusiastic backer - France, Germany and Spain account for 40% of the enlarged EU's population. He has promised to make sure Europe gets its constitution, a document that has angered so many Eurosceptics in the UK.

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"Spain will now have a government which does not talk of `old Europe' and which wants to rediscover an active relationship with France and Germany and with the other countries driving forward European construction," said Zapatero.

Mr Blair might well publicly endorse that if there were no elections coming up to the Parliament. But he faces a mounting storm from Michael Howard's Tories, who will seize on British voters' opposition to the constitution to dominate his party's European campaign. The Prime Minister backs the Constitution, but knows that a UK referendum demanded by the Tories would see him defeated.

Talks on the constitution collapsed in December after Spain and Poland blocked moves to reduce their voting powers. Following the Spanish election outcome, the Irish presidency of the EU has won French support for a drive to secure a deal at the European summit in June ­- timing that ensures it will dominate the election campaign.

Mr Blair faces the distinct possibility that the outcome of the elections will be a massive anti-United States globalisation majority elected in the Parliament - and a host of Tories baying on the sidelines representing Britain.

DEMOUNTABLES DOUBLE SPEAK

ESSEX schools have the second highest number of temporary mobile classrooms in England, figures released to the House of Commons have revealed.

Replying to a Liberal Democrat question, junior education minister David Milliband said 340 schools in the county had so-called demountable units. Only Kent had more, with Norfolk a close third.

Lib Dem Colchester MP Bob Russell afterwards called the figure astounding. "I have taken this up over the years both with the Government and the County Council - and each seems to blame the other."

Seeking to deflect criticism of Government investment in education, the minister said added, in typical New Labour speak: "Prioritisation of need through asset management planning should be an open, rigorous and consultative process, based on surveys on the needs of all schools.

"The bulk of schools capital is now allocated by formula to authorities and schools so that they can address their local priorities, including the replacement of decayed temporary accommodation."

Black marks to Suffolk, which must be waiting for the translation into English. Mr Milliband castigated the authority and 23 others for either not supplying data or where "there are clearly significant data anomalies."

r West Suffolk Tory Richard Spring asked how many schools in his constituency had benefited from the Out of School Hours Learning Programme and what financial provisions had been made for those schools once funding end. Another junior education minister Stephen Twigg told him Suffolk Local Education Authority had distributed £725,186 from the Standards Fund to all schools in Suffolk this year to provide study support opportunities - Whitehall jargon for out of school hours learning.

"Study support includes activities such as sport, the creative arts and cultural activities, as well as after school and breakfast clubs," added the minister, rather helpfully. "Suffolk has also received £720,564 from the New Opportunities Fund Out of School Hours Learning Programme of which £219,802 went to schools in West Suffolk. Again, this can be used to provide a range of activities for young people.

"School funding plans for next year have been announced, guaranteeing that the standards fund income for all schools will be protected at this year's levels plus inflation proofing at 4%."

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