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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK

UK Politics

Three views on Labour's annual report

Is New Labour's popularity Tony Blair's greatest danger?

As Tony Blair delivers his second annual report detailing the successes of his government, the BBC asked a critic from within his party, an opposition politician and a journalist to give their assessments of New Labour at the half-way stage between elections.

Labour MP Frank Field served as the minister for welfare reform during the first year of the Labour government. He resigned during Tony Blair's first Cabinet re-shuffle and his since campaigned for radical welfare reform from the backbenches.

Frank Field: "People with disabilities staying in work now risk losing incapacity benefit"
Mr Field believes that the measures taken on welfare reform so far have mocked the prime minister's declared intention the "something for nothing society".

The former ministers fears that "people with disabilities staying in work now risk losing incapacity benefit even though they have paid a life-time of contributions.

"Despite being told to take out a second pension, these will be cut in half for those who have saved.

"Older women risk losing widows' benefits even though their husband had paid decades of contributions.

"But those who have neither bothered to work or saved will be given a guaranteed minimum income.

"This strategy sinks the government's pledge to encourage work, reward savings and to boost honesty."

Nick Harvey is the Liberal Democrat campaigns manager. Although he credits the government with some genuine successes he thinks Labour still has a long way to go.

Nick Harvey: "Class sizes are bigger now than they were at the time of the election"
"Class sizes are bigger now than they were at the time of the election, police numbers are lower, people are waiting to get on to the waiting lists for hospitals.

"There is little or no sign of freedom of information, no sign of the proportional representation referendum and they haven't cleared up the English question left by Scottish and Welsh devolution.

"The government may think, like the old BR slogan 'We're getting there' but in my view it's not only their transport policy that still has a long way to go."

In journalist Andrew Marr's opinion, New Labour is still made up of "Tony Blair and a couple of mates" and is not a genuine mass movement. He looks at the state of the government now the magic of Mr Blair's spin doctors has long since waned.

Andrew Marr: "The spin doctors have failed"
As well as having too many "second-raters" in the government, Mr Marr sees an administration that still has to take action on "child poverty, crisis ridden agriculture and the crime academies we call prisons".

Although he praises the independence of the Bank of England, the Working Families Tax Credit and the prime minister's performance in Kosovo, Mr Marr fears the greatest test the for government lies in its own popularity.

Although the government, he says, is made up of "by-and-large decent people doing their level best" he says ministers have become "frightened of losing" their popularity.

He sounds a warning for Mr Blair at mid-term saying: "Good government and popular government are perhaps two very different things and for New Labour that perhaps is the hardest lesson of all."

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