- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

LONDON Britain's longest-serving member of the European Parliament announced yesterday that he was quitting his country's ruling Labor Party in disgust to join the major opposition Conservatives.

The decision by Richard Balfe is considered a political setback for Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr. Balfe said he was leaving the Labor Party because of the "growing arrogance and dishonesty" of the Blair government.

He also said the prime minister had become "mesmerized by millionaires."

Mr. Balfe immediately joined the Conservative Party that the Blair forces replaced in office five years ago, and became the first elected politician to cross the parliamentary floor to the Tories' benches in 25 years.

Mr. Balfe's announcement in the Daily Telegraph newspaper yesterday signaled another embarrassment for Mr. Blair, whose government is under attack on a number of issues, from the declining state of the nation's health service to running what one Labor politician described as the worst rail network in Europe.

Government ministers also have been accused of letting crime get out of hand, lying to Parliament in battles with civil servants, and defending a press officer who distributed a memo advising that September 11, the day of the terrorist attacks in the United States, was "a good day to release any bad news."

Mr. Balfe, London's member of the European Parliament since 1979 and a onetime treasurer and secretary of the Labor group in Europe, said the issues were representative of the "Labor sleaze" at the heart of Mr. Blair's government.

"Blair and his Downing Street henchmen believe that the ends [their continuation in power] justify the means ceaseless lies and evasions," Mr. Balfe said in his announcement.

He added that the Labor Party had been taken over by "spin doctors and bullies" and that politicians who stepped out of line were "rubbished."

Mr. Balfe was expelled from the Labor Party in January after defying the party's instructions not to seek election as one of the European Parliament's "questors," or senior lawmakers in charge of looking after the interests of the European Parliament.

He said that rather than Europe, most voters in Britain were concerned about the state of their hospitals and schools, how they could get to and from work, and whether their mobile phones or cars were likely to be stolen issues he said that the Conservatives were more prepared to tackle.

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