Will Cameron be carried from the ring?

WHEN it's time to quit the stage, always leave the punters wanting more. This week, Tony Blair began his long goodbye with a barnstorming performance which had Conservative leader David Cameron more than just punch drunk.

By Graham Dines

WHEN it's time to quit the stage, always leave the punters wanting more. This week, Tony Blair began his long goodbye with a barnstorming performance which had Conservative leader David Cameron more than just punch drunk.

Next month marks the first anniversary of Mr Cameron's election as Conservative leader - but his refusal to flesh out the substance of policies left him at the mercy of a demob happy Prime Minister at the start of the debate on the Queen's Speech, which outlined a legislative programme of 29 Bills.

No-one knows just when Mr Blair will announce his resignation. It could be any time during the next nine months.

But his aim is to ensure that his successor - be it Gordon Brown or John Reid - has the ammunition to destroy the “sunshine” vision of Tory politics, encapsulated by Mr Cameron's “hug a hoodie” and “love a lout” philosophy which has seen the Tories vote against anti-social behaviour legislation.

The Government has put the nation's security, law and order, at the heart of its policies for the next 12 months. He knows he is vulnerable to the charge that his Government has sat back and done little on border controls in the past 10 years, which has seen a huge rise in the number of illegal migrants coming to the UK.

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And he is risking a run-in with his own party on identity cards and Iraq's decline into civil war.

But even though the Conservatives are ahead in the polls, he believes he's found Mr Cameron's weak spot - vulnerable to the charge that he sits on the fence under the guise of “our policies will be revealed nearer an election”.

What would catch the Tories out is a snap general election when Labour elects a successor to Mr Blair. It's seems unlikely given the Conservatives' poll lead, but if Labour receives a bounce under a different leader, it could be the impetus for the new Prime Minister seeking his own mandate.

Nuclear power is another area in which Mr Blair finds himself at odds with Labour. But at least he does have a policy on energy.

He taunted Mr Cameron this week with an interview the Tory leader gave in which he said: “I am not dogmatically in favour of nuclear power, nor dogmatically against.”

Mr Blair said: “When over the next few years our nuclear power stations are close, are we going to replace them. I say yes. What does he say? We don't know.”

He accused the Opposition leader of avoiding difficult decisions. “In the end, because you have no interest in the substance of policy, you cannot either understand the long term challenges to this country or meet them.

“The next election, it will be a flyweight versus a heavyweight. And however much you may dance around the ring, at some point you'll come within the reach of a big clunking first.

“You will be out on your feet, carried out of the ring - the fifth Tory leader to be carried out, a fourth term Labour government still standing.”

Earlier, Mr Cameron had mocked the Government for presiding over massive job losses in the NHS despite pumping in extra resources. “To paraphrase a former leader of the Labour Party we have ended up with the grotesque chaos of a Labour Government, that's a Labour Government, scuttling around the country, handing out redundancy notices to their own NHS staff.”

FARMERS WANT A “FAIR DEAL”

EURO MPs this week told the European Commission to think again about changes to the Common Agricultural Policy which would reduce single farm payments in England to fund rural development schemes.

East of England MEP Geoffrey Van Orden said the region's farmers wanted a fair deal from the CAP - instead, the proposals would make them 20% worse off than those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

He said the British government's failure to make single farm payments on time would lead to it being fined by the Commission, with farmers picking up the tab for Whitehall's “ineptitude”.

Meanwhile MEPs finally approved one of the most sweeping pieces of euro-legislation for years - opening up the European market in services across 25 countries. The accord reached in Strasbourg amounts to a landmark decision sweeping away red tape and bureaucracy hampering everyone from hairdressers and estate agents to plumbers and building workers seeking opportunities in another EU country.

Agreement on liberalising services - the missing link in the EU's single market - had been stalled by fears of a flood of cheap labour from the new EU member states in central and eastern Europe. And the prospect of such an opening up of markets and the impact on domestic workers was a critical factor in the French and Dutch rejections of the EU constitution.

This week's deal retains safeguards which grant exemption to sensitive sectors such as public health, social care, charities and environmental services from the full rigours of a totally open market. And all public services continue to be a matter for public authorities only.

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