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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Blair move backfires again
Tory Peer Lady Young
Baroness Young led second government defeat
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

Time and again Tony Blair has run into trouble over issues he believed were popular and would sail through parliament.

The ban on fox hunting has dogged him ever since he said he would push it through.


What has most dismayed ministers is that they appear to have been out of touch with voters on the issue

And his attempts to crack down on drunken louts and football hooligans have all backfired badly.

Now it is the controversial scrapping of Section 28 that has seen him twice defeated in the Lords.

The measure, introduced by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, has never been used in the courts and was seen as effectively moribund.

But, as soon as its abolition was raised by Mr Blair, a campaign to keep it was started and quickly grew in strength.

New battle

Now, the prime minister has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown and abandoned it rather than risk a damaging ping-pong battle with peers and the loss of other key legislation.


[Mr Blair] has clearly been taken by surprise at the backlash it generated and he will think long and hard about how to reintroduce it in future

It seems highly unlikely that the issue will be reintroduced before the next election, although ministers will be given the summer to mull over the possibilities.

If it is decided to bring the move back during the next session of parliament it is certain that the battle with the Lords will start up all over again.

Tory peers led by Baroness Young and cheered on by former Baroness Thatcher, have been given the go-ahead by William Hague to carry on the guerrilla warfare.

So, while the upper house would eventually be overruled by the Commons, another row would certainly damage the government further.

The likeliest option is that it will be included in the next election manifesto, giving the government more time and greater authority to push it through the Lords if it wins a second term.

Out of touch

But what has most dismayed ministers is that they appear to have been out of touch with voters on the issue.

There has been a huge campaign against the abolition which appears to have struck a chord with ordinary voters.

At the same time, by mishandling the issue - as some claim - they have angered gay rights activists and other groups who were relying on them to win the day.

Ministers also clearly failed to gauge the level of opposition in the Lords properly.

Even after creating a fistful of new Labour and Liberal Democrat peers in an attempt to even out the odds, the move was defeated by a large majority of 42.

And the opponents have won a double victory after, in an attempt to offer a compromise, the government laid down new guidelines to protect children.

Mr Blair is insisting that he is still committed to repeal of the section, but he has clearly been taken by surprise at the backlash it generated and he will think long and hard about how to reintroduce it in future.

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See also:

25 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Ministers back down on gay ban
24 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Section 28: An overview
24 Jul 00 | UK
The Section 28 battle
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