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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 17:01 GMT
Foxed again by his MPs
Countryside Alliance protesters
Blair wants to avoid more protests
test hello test
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

The foxhunting issue was already complicated enough - but Monday night's vote by MPs has made things even worse.

And it has added to Tony Blair's dilemma over whether to take on the Lords or his own backbenchers over the issue.

The prime minister has insisted he gave MPs and Peers a vote on three possible ways forward - a complete ban, no change or a middle way compromise - in order to test opinion and see if it had shifted since the last vote.

It has. His backbenchers are even more opposed to the middle way option than they were last time around.

Doubly difficult

That is probably not the outcome the prime minister was expecting or wanted.

No room for a deal
Most believe he was hoping more MPs than before would support the third option and that the Lords would then follow suit and also back that solution.

Face could just about have been saved all round - and the countryside lobby dissuaded from taking to the streets yet again.

But MPs have now made his task doubly difficult. And they are warning they will not accept any compromise.

As a result it is nearly impossible to guess what Alun Michael will announce when he reveals the government's final thinking within the next few days.

Sell out

If he persists with ideas of a compromise he will risk sparking a major revolt from backbenchers who will feel they are being bulldozed.

If he goes for an all out ban there is the chance of a debilitating clash with the upper chamber.

Tony Blair is already being charged with facing both ways on the issue because he voted for a ban on Monday night, but then said he was seeking a consensus.

There was a suspicion amongst pro-ban MPs that he was preparing to sell them out.

That may even have persuaded some to abandon the compromise deal.

He is now under intense pressure to go the whole hog, support a total ban and tell the Lords it's time they did what the elected MPs wanted.

See also:

19 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Peer pressure for hunting deal
19 Mar 02 | UK Politics
How the MPs voted on hunting
18 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair hunts a way out
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