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Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Breathtaking plunge into crisis
Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown
Focus is turning from Blair to Brown
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder

The speed with which the government has careered from being the most popular in recent history to one on the brink of real disaster has been breathtaking.

Tony Blair has had some pretty dreadful weeks before, particularly in the early part of this year.

But, after a relatively peaceful and trouble-free summer, the government appeared to be back on track.

The Tory advance seemed to have stalled and, once again, Labour was looking pretty secure.

Then, in the space of a fortnight, the fuel crisis hit ministers like a bolt from the blue and the Bernie Ecclestone affair leapt out of the closet to further batter them.

The result has been to pitch the government into its most serious trouble yet.

Public confidence appears to have crumbled and even Tony Blair's supporters in the media have turned on him with surprising ferocity.

Meanwhile there are signs that a bunker mentality may be taking hold in Downing Street - a sure fire sign of a government struggling to cope with events.

Focus on Brown

The prime minister is taking much of the flak but, for the first time, the focus is now turning onto "iron" Chancellor Gordon Brown.

First there was his continued insistence that he would not heed the truckers' 60 day deadline to cut fuel taxes.

While Mr Blair kept talking about how the government would listen to the protesters, Mr Brown continued to say he would not be swayed by short-term events.

That once again raised fears that the rift between the two men was getting in the way of decision making.

Then, after initial attacks on Mr Blair over the alleged lies during the Ecclestone affair, the spotlight has now turned onto Mr Brown - with the Tories demanding his head.

They almost certainly will not get it, the crisis appears not to be of the scale of Westland or some of the Tory sleaze scandals - although one more disaster could push it that far.

But the Conservatives are not about to let the government off the hook.

The demands for Mr Brown's resignation and the promised cut in petrol tax have seen them accused of opportunism and jumping on every passing bandwagon.

But, as the previous rows over law and order and asylum seekers showed, that can still work in their favour.

It all helps to build a picture of a government in crisis and in the grip of events.

And the government's struggle back to popularity - assuming it can manage it - will certainly not be as swift as the plunge into crisis.

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20 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Tories pledge fuel tax cut
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