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Tuesday, July 7, 1998 Published at 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK

UK Politics

Blair accused of presidential leadership

Two presidents, the Conservatives fear

By BBC News online's Nick Assinder.

Tony Blair's style of premiership has come under bitter new attack from MPs claiming he is deliberately undermining the powers of parliament.

As the government faced a barrage of criticism over the cash-for-access and arms-to-Africa affairs, the Commons heard Labour was moving towards a presidential style of government that effectively reduced the Commons to a talking shop.

Shadow Leader of the House Sir George Young echoed the views of former premier John Major, who recently accused Labour of bypassing the Commons and treating MPs with contempt.

'Presidential style'

[ image: Sir George Young: critical]
Sir George Young: critical
He effectively accused the prime minister of adopting a dictatorial approach to government by packing Whitehall with placemen and threatening to destroy the House of Lords.

"We are, I believe, moving towards a more presidential style of government," he said, "We have seen the politicisation of the information service within government, as civil servants have been replaced by those sympathetic to the Labour party.

"We are threatened with an appointed second chamber as an interim solution which may last indefinitely.

"We have seen more special advisers and witnessed an increasing tendency for government decisions to appear in the press before they appear in this House," he said.

'Democracy undermined'

And, speaking in a Tory-led debate about the arms-to Africa affair, he claimed the changes were undermining the democratic process by denying MPs the chance to debate changes in government policy.

"That convention is not an outdated relic, it is to ensure that changes in government policy are subjected when they are announced to critical and democratic scrutiny," he said.

Seizing on the attacks on the government by Labour backbenchers, he declared: "One of the most effective checks on this government, as on previous ones, is opposition from within it.

"But unparalleled steps are being taken to muzzle that independence," he said.

And he warned there was a growing suspicion that the government would "stop at nothing to get its way."

Government denies charges

Leader of the House Ann Taylor rejected the attacks, claiming previous Tory governments had acted in the same manner.

She concentrated on the demands by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for the government to hand over key documents in the arms-to Africa row.

And she said it was perfectly acceptable for ministers to insist that the independent inquiry into the affair should be completed first.

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