Time to be counted, Mr Blair

IT'S one decision the most famous of all divers Tony Blair can't duck – it's up to him whether some of Britain's most famous regiments, among them the Black Watch and the Royal Anglians, survive the Army's cull as part of the streamlining of the infantry.

IT'S one decision the most famous of all divers Tony Blair can't duck - it's up to him whether some of Britain's most famous regiments, among them the Black Watch and the Royal Anglians, survive the Army's cull as part of the streamlining of the infantry.

Last week, Braintree's Labour MP Alan Hurst handed over to Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram the EADT's petition calling on the Royal Anglians not to be submerged into a super regiment spawned out of the current Queen's Division as the number of UK infantry divisions is cut from 40 to 36.

In Scotland there's uproar at the increasing likelihood that its single battalion regiments will be merged into other regiments, even though they may keep their cap badges and identity within the new structure.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman conceded yesterday that "we have never hidden the fact that in the end this will be a decision that has gone to No 10. Of course, ministers and the Prime Minister will have to approve that decision but it will be one based on the recommendations of the army."

In other words, the finger of blame will be pointed directly at Mr Blair. He will take ultimate responsibility when the outcry erupts from critics who will lament that historic identities will be lost.

It reflects the tribal nature of our history. I well recall the apoplexy throughout the UK when it was suggested that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders - arguably a more distinguished regiment than the Black Watch - should be merged. Thirty or so years ago it was saved - it won't survive now if a Scottish super regiment is formed.

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Mr Blair has to decide whether Labour can face out the political row in Scotland and risk the defeat of a number of Labour MPs north of the border by giving the go-ahead to the Scottish reorganisation. My gut instinct is that he will - and coupled with the uncontested proposal to merge the current Lancashire regiments, the Royal Anglians will be saved.

THE unlamented scheme dreamed up by civil servants to amalgamate Lowestoft in Suffolk and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk as a unitary authority under the code name Yartoft bit the dust 10 years ago. But that hasn't stopped the UK Independence Party from coming up with its own internal merger by combining organisations in the two towns' parliamentary constituencies to form its East Point branch.

The two seats are currently represented by Labour MPs, with Great Yarmouth decidedly vulnerable to the Conservatives at the next election. UKIP has selected Bertie Poole to fight Yarmouth while chartered engineer Brian Aylett will once again be standing in Waveney.

"All the signs are positive," says Mr Aylett. "If the media is fair with us, we have an excellent chance. If we were elected, we would state clearly that we are fed up with uncontrolled immigration and excessive interference from Brussels, which everyone knows is destroying our jobs and draining our resources."

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