Saturday, September 16, 2000

Blair takes battering in press over fuel crisis

The Associated Press

        LONDON — Tabloids are calling for his head, and public opinion polls suggest that Britons blame Prime Minister Tony Blair for fuel protests that brought the country to a virtual standstill.

        While analysts say Mr. Blair is highly unlikely to be forced out of 10 Downing St. by the now-easing crisis, this week ranks as the most disastrous of his term.

        “It's easily been his worst week — by a factor of 10,” said Bob Worcester, director of the respected MORI opinion pollsters.

        The fuel crisis represented the first major show of opposition to the government's strategy of raising taxes and attacking deficits in its first two years, and only recently budgeting significant spending increases.

        Even with protesters calling off their blockades of depots and refineries, motorists were warned it would be days, even weeks, before gasoline pumps are full again.

        The protesters, who started their campaign a week ago, received no concessions on the taxes that have made British fuel prices the highest in Europe. While Mr. Blair called his refusal to give in a victory for democratic government, analysts said he risked looking out of touch with the rest of the country.

        A poll based on telephone interviews with 514 people found that nearly 80 percent of the population supported the demonstrators and 90 percent wanted cuts in the fuel tax. The poll, commissioned by the BBC on Tuesday, had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

        Photographs of Mr. Blair looking tense and rattled were splashed across several national newspapers Thursday.

        “He is paying the price for not listening soon enough,” The Sun, the nation's largest-selling tabloid, declared in an editorial.

        Speaking to reporters at his Downing Street residence for the third time in as many days, Mr. Blair on Thursday showed none of the optimism he exhibited Tuesday when he declared life would be returning to normal in 24 hours.

        He admitted it would be “days before the regular supplies get back to normal.”


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