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Tuesday, 25 January, 2000, 17:24 GMT
Blair's 1,000 days

Tony Blair: the jury is still out

By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

Anniversaries are always difficult for politicians and the general rule of thumb is to try and ignore them.

They only encourage opponents to trawl all over your failures and, in any case, they tempt the fates.

When Margaret Thatcher reached her 10th anniversary in Downing Street, she ordered that there should be no celebrations.

And Tony Blair has taken another leaf out of her book by insisting there will be nothing to mark his 1,000th day in power on Wednesday, 26 January - with just one low key speech from Education Secretary David Blunkett.

He has other reasons, of course, most notably the sudden dip in his fortunes and the growing impression that the government is failing to deliver on its pre-election pledges.

Tony Blair's popularity has plumetted
And New Labour has had its fair share of troubles since the landslide election victory 1,000 days ago.

Mr Blair and his team were swept into power on the back of the overwhelming fact that, after almost two decades, voters had had enough of the Tories.

John Major's party was fundamentally split over Europe and apparently riddled with sleaze.

Labour preyed on these problems, but also made five specific pledges - to cut class sizes for 5, 6 and 7 year olds, to tackle youth crime, to cut NHS waiting lists by 100,000, get 250,000 people off the dole and not to raise income tax.

It has delivered on the last and made some progress on the rest. But with probably only just over a year to go until the next election, it still has a long way to go to meet all the promises.

Most recently it has hit its worst period in office as a result of the crisis in the NHS and the prime ministers spending pledge that turned into merely an aspiration.

Early troubles

But the troubles started fairly early in the New Labour government. It may be forgotten now, but within months of being elected, the prime minister was forced to go on TV to ask people to trust him as a "pretty straight guy".

Tobacco advertising was Labour's first crisis
The row centred around the 1m donation Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone had given to the party.

Mr Blair was accused of changing his policy on banning tobacco advertising at sporting events to exclude motor racing because of the gift. He denied it and returned the money.

But it was the first hint of sleaze to attach itself to the party that had pledged to sweep it out of government.

The worst came when ministers Peter Mandelson and Geoffrey Robinson were both forced to resign over the cash loan Mr Robinson had made to his colleague to help him buy a house he couldn't afford.

If anyone had predicted that within the first 18 months of the new government two of its ministers would have quit over alleged sleaze, few would have believed it.

Then there was the bizarre incident in which Welsh Secretary Ron Davies was also forced to quit after apparently being robbed after his "moment of madness" on Clapham Common.

Policy problems

But there have been serious policy problems as well which have seen Mr Blair accused of abandoning any hint of radicalism.

He delivered devolution to Scotland and Wales, but failed to win overall majorities in either assembly.

He also introduced proportional voting for local and European elections and then went on to see Tories winning both polls.

He also reformed the upper chamber House of Lords and turned into a half-way house of Lords by allowing 92 hereditary peers to keep their privileges.

As a result, he is now said to have cooled dramatically on further constitutional reform such as PR for general elections or wider changes in the Lords.

Then, of course, there is the ongoing civil war over who should be Labour's official candidate for London mayor.

The campaign by Tony's man Frank Dobson appears to be going down the tubes - although he could still be rescued by the voting system which relies heavily on the union block vote and MPs.

The night-mayor candidate Ken Livingstone is far and away the most popular, and the battle is proving highly damaging to Mr Blair.

The government has also seen major backbench rebellions over social security changes, after apparently abandoning its pledges to "think the unthinkable" over the system.

Broken promises

Most recently, and most importantly, there are now serious questions not only over the future of the health service but also the amount of cash being put into education, and the escalating crime figures.

Geoffrey Robinson: The ghost which haunts Labour
And, of course, Geoffrey Robinson and his previous businesses continue to haunt the government.

As a result of all this, Tony Blair's personal popularity has slumped over recent weeks and there are ominous signs over his future standing.

It has even been suggested that the next general election, pencilled in for spring next year, could be delayed to give the government time to get back on track.

It would be wrong to suggest that the Blair government has been a catalogue of disaster.

And, in many ways, the prime minister is right to complain that his critics are concentrating on "passing frenzies" and insist that the first ever New Labour government has been a huge success.

The economy is doing extremely well and Chancellor Gordon Brown has managed to keep the lid on inflation while boosting employment.

He has introduced a national minimum wage with little of the widely-predicted disruption.

And he has brought in the working families tax credit which should help the worst off in society.

The government has maintained a reputation, particularly in the City, for good financial management and Mr Blair is determined to concentrate on that success.

And then there is the Blair baby, due in May, which is certain to put a smile on most peoples' faces.

So, 1,000 days in, the jury must still be out on New Labour. And in the next 500 days, Tony Blair is going to have to work all out to bring in a positive verdict.

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25 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Tories keep NHS pressure on Blair

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