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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 20:26 GMT
The dangers in Blair's victory
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

It is not often a prime minister faces a bitter party inquest after securing a thumping Commons victory on a key policy - but that is precisely what now awaits Tony Blair.

Tony Blair in Commons
Blair needed Tory votes to win
As predicted, he easily won the big vote on his controversial and "defining" education reforms - but only thanks to the Tories, after 52 of his own backbenchers defied him and voted against the bill.

Had the opposition voted against the bill the prime minister would have lost the piece of legislation he has marked out as his single most important legacy reform.

And that immediately lead to claims that he is being sustained in office by the Tories. And it will undoubtedly see some calls for him to consider his position.

Matters were made worse for Mr Blair after Labour treasurer Jack Dromey stepped into the so-called "cash for Peerages" row, revealing he had known nothing about the controversial loans made to the party and claiming Number 10 had not "sufficiently respected" the Labour Party.

Taken together, the two events will feed into escalating suggestions that Tony Blair has become dangerously detached from his own party and, worse, that he doesn't care.

Secret loans

On education, his critics will argue that, despite some big concessions over selection and the role of local authorities, the prime minister lost the argument with, and control of, his party.

Jack Dromey
Dromey added to attacks
Claims that his authority has been draining away in recent months will grow louder and there will be demands for the prime minister to, at the very least, start listening more to his own party.

Indeed, the left-wing Campaign Group - amongst the prime minister's fiercest critics - immediately declared Mr Blair had, in effect, resigned as leader from the Labour party.

It is unlikely Mr Blair will lose much sleep over the views of that group, who he sees as the "usual suspects", but he will have cause for concern over the effect this outcome will have in the wider party.

Meanwhile, the row over the secret loans will also add to the attacks on his leadership style and relations with the Labour party.

He will face those criticisms on Thursday morning in his monthly press conference, deliberately timed to follow the crunch vote.

He is expected to dismiss all assaults on his position, or suggestions he should now stand down as leader of the party whose support he no longer commands.

Tory votes

He told a previous press conference that it would "not be very sensible" to resign after winning such an important vote - suggesting he is ready to live with the consequences of winning with Tory votes.

Schoolchildren (generic)
Blair believes he is doing right by schools
He is likely to point out that the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs supported the bill and that he remains convinced he is doing the right thing for the country.

But he will also be put on the spot over the "cash for Peerages" row, something he and his spokesman have been careful to keep out of until now.

Mr Dromey's comments have ensured that the issue will be used as another example of the prime minister allegedly ignoring his own party.

It will make it just that little bit harder for Mr Blair to brush aside the Commons vote.

There may have been a large victory in the Commons, but the fallout from the education vote, combined with the loans row will ensure the attacks on the prime minister's leadership style continue unabated.

And those demanding he stand down sooner rather than later will undoubtedly step up their campaign.


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