Monday, May 16, 2005

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair, faced with a sharply reduced margin in Parliament, has put the finishing touches on a third-term legislative program that could cost him his job if rebels within his ruling Labor Party use it to seek his political blood.

In a speech that his government has written for her, Queen Elizabeth II was scheduled to announce to Parliament today plans for up to 40 new measures, some of them almost certain to anger rebellious elements eager to get rid of the prime minister.

No longer does Mr. Blair have the parliamentary political clout that came with the triple-digit majorities of his first two terms. Elections earlier this month slashed his margin in the House of Commons from 161 to 67 — leaving him potentially vulnerable to an estimated 30 to 50 Labor members who are among his sharpest critics.

It would now take just 34 Labor members of Parliament to vote with a unified opposition to defeat the government and bring strong pressure on Mr. Blair to step down.

The ingredients for discord are there. A key measure expected to be announced today would establish a compulsory identity card for all Britons — a proposal that has infuriated Labor left-wingers and liberal opposition members in Parliament.

Opposition is also already shaping up against planned anti-terrorism legislation that would focus on suspects considered to be a threat but who, under current law, cannot be prosecuted or deported. Some ethnic minority groups say the government is targeting them and want any such measure to be at least watered down.

Another bit of political dynamite would permit the government to “fast-track” asylum applications, a touchy issue that the opposition Conservative Party used in the election, saying the Blair government was already letting in too many asylum applicants and illegal aliens.

Today’s speech covers Mr. Blair’s legislative program through November 2006 — but the impact of the packet of measures could determine whether he serves out his third term — or even lasts to the end of next year.

Mr. Blair has said this will be his final term at 10 Downing Street. But despite Labor’s third straight victory at the polls, rebel members of the party in Parliament have begun demanding that he step down sooner rather than later.

One member — Alan Simpson, described as a “serial rebel” in some quarters — said yesterday, “One way or another, there will have to be a challenger from the left” — again, sooner rather than later.

The major threat to Mr. Blair is that if his legislative program does go seriously off the tracks, he could be forced to give way to the political powerhouse widely accepted as his almost certain successor, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.

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