- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

Tories re-energized

Liam Fox, the co-chairman of the British Conservative Party, can hardly restrain himself as he watches Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair becoming more and more unpopular.

“There is dissatisfaction with the current government that is now deafening,” he told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

Mr. Blair is facing a difficult week as he braces himself for a vote on a contentious education bill today that would raise college tuition and for the release tomorrow of a report on the suicide of a British expert on Iraqi arms.

Opposition to the education bill is coming from opponents within his own party, as well as from the Liberal Democrats. A defeat on that measure could result in an attempt to remove Mr. Blair from office by a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons.

The report on the suicide of arms expert David Kelly could expose Mr. Blair to more criticism from antiwar opponents, who accuse him of fabricating evidence on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Fox, who visited Washington last week to attend President Bush’s State of the Union speech, said the British public is becoming more disenchanted with Mr. Blair because of rising taxes and deteriorating public services after seven years in office.

He noted Mr. Blair’s popularity in Washington because of Britain’s support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

“I told my Republican colleagues here that it is nice to hear you say nice things about Tony Blair, but you don’t have to pay for him,” Mr. Fox said.

“There are taxes on everything. The government tries to call some taxes charges, but I say if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a tax.

“People are starting to feel the pain of increased taxation and no improvement in services. They may be willing to pay more for better benefits, but they are not willing to pay more money for nothing.”

In addition to those issues, the Labor Party this week is expected to endorse the re-election of one of the most left-wing politicians in Britain, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who was expelled from the party five years ago in an internal dispute. Mr. Livingstone, also known as “Red Ken,” is running for re-election June 10.

Mr. Fox predicted that the Labor Party will be embarrassed by Mr. Livingstone’s frequent anti-Bush rants.

In May, Mr. Livingstone called Mr. Bush “the most corrupt American president since [Warren G.] Harding” and said he looks forward to Mr. Bush “being overthrown as much as I looked forward to Saddam Hussein being overthrown.”

In November, he declared, “I actually think that Bush is the greatest threat to life on this planet that we’ve most probably even seen.”

Mr. Fox, assessing his party’s chances of reclaiming power, said the Conservatives must present a stronger case and remind voters of the reforms made by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

“We must explain why free markets are good and why less government is a good thing,” he said.

“Conservatives must not apologize for what they did. Mrs. Thatcher represented strength in standing up to the Soviet Union and the labor unions. We need to re-energize that agenda.”

Terrorists upset

When the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon called Hezbollah a terrorist group, he hurt some feelings among the bomb throwers.

Hezbollah, which considers itself a legitimate, armed opposition to Israel, demanded an apology from Ambassador Vincent Battle.

“He should apologize to the Lebanese people,” Naeem Qassem, the group’s deputy secretary, told Hezbollah’s television station over the weekend.

Mr. Battle, in a meeting last week with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, accused Hezbollah of re-igniting a conflict with Israel with a recent attack that killed an Israeli soldier. Tel Aviv retaliated by bombing Hezbollah camps.

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