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The BBC's political editor Robin Oakley
"Leaks are often one day wonders but this one has hit where it hurts"
 real 28k

David Blunkett MP, Education Minister
"This was written at the end of April and of course a great deal of water has passed under the bridge since then"
 real 28k

Michael Ancram MP,Chairman of the Conservative Party
"This government has been all about image and suddenly the image is falling apart"
 real 28k

Monday, 17 July, 2000, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Inquiry into leaked Blair memo
Tony Blair
Memo reveals Tony Blair's fears about Labour's image
An inquiry is under way into a leaked memo which lays bare Tony Blair's fears that the government is regarded as "out of touch" on issues such as crime and asylum-seekers.

All of these things add up to a sense that the government is somehow out of touch with gut British instincts

Tony Blair
The document - leaked to two national newspapers - was written just before Labour's poor showing in the local elections in May.

In it, Mr Blair asked his closest advisers to generate policy initiatives and media opportunities - with which he could be linked personally - aimed at restoring Labour's tough reputation on law and order.

Downing Street has set up a top-level inquiry headed by Cabinet Secretary Sir Richard Wilson - the latest in a series of embarrassing revelations to hit the government, but the first to involve the prime minister directly.

Conservative leader William Hague said the memo was proof that Labour had been "rattled" by the Tories' recent success in setting the political agenda.

Education Secretary David Blunkett admitted to the BBC the leak was damaging while left-wing Labour backbencher Diane Abbott called on the prime minister to stop trying to compete with the Conservatives by moving to the right on law and order.

'Out of touch'

In the memo Mr Blair said that he was worried the public had the impression that the government was "out of touch with gut British instincts".

An inquiry has been launched into the leak
But he insisted the problem was one of perception, saying: "It is bizarre that any government I lead should be seen as anti-family."

Signed TB and written on 29 April, the memo was distributed only among the prime minister's inner circle.

A Downing Street spokesman reiterated that the memo was dealing with perceptions rather than reality of government policy and delivery, and insisted that the Prime Minister sent many such memos.

Official spokesman Alastair Campbell, chief of staff Jonathan Powell, senior adviser David Miliband and Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam were among those sent the message.

The document was written as the government faced a sustained Tory attack over the sale of Rover, asylum-seekers and farmer Tony Martin's life sentence for murdering a burglar.

On the Martin case, Mr Blair suggested a senior judge could reconsider sentencing laws for such cases.

He also said the government should publicise cases where asylum-seekers were expelled, along with positive decisions for genuine refugees, to dispel the idea that bogus claimants were flooding the country.

Tough message

The prime minister also highlighted a need to reduce street crime, two months before floating his ill-fated idea of marching hooligans to cashpoints for on the spot fines.

He suggested: "We should think now of an initiative, eg locking up street muggers. Something tough, with immediate bite that sends a message through the system."

Tony Martin
Jailed farmer Tony Martin: Blair suggests sentencing in such cases could be reconsidered

He also said that Labour needed "two or three eye-catching initiatives that are entirely conventional in terms of the family" to dispel the impression that the government was overly concerned about gay rights.

He ruled out big defence cuts which would give the impression that Labour was not "standing up for Britain".

Downing Street has said that whoever leaked the memo would face "very serious" consequences.

But it is not yet known whether the security breach stemmed from a minister, civil servant, special adviser or staff member.

Spin could be 'Tony's downfall'

Responding to the populist tone of much of the memo, Labour left-winger Diane Abbott told the BBC that any attempt by the party to move to the right of the Tories on law and order would "end in shame for the government".

She then warned the prime minister against following too closely the findings of focus groups rather than showing political leadership.

Education Secretary David Blunkett said: "The leak of the memo is not welcome, but the contents spell out a prime minister who is concerned, who is engaged, who is ahead of some of the issues which have blown up since."

But William Hague refused to be drawn by reporters who asked him about rumours that the Tories had been responsible for passing the leak on to the The Times and The Sun.

Mr Hague said: "Now we know where all the spin and the gimmicks come from in this government.

"It comes from the very top. It comes from the prime minister himself."

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