Blair unveils final program as Iraq clouds legacy

/ Source: Reuters

Britain’s Tony Blair unveiled a raft of proposals Wednesday to tackle crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, seeking in his last months as premier to reverse some of the damage done to his legacy by Iraq.

Accused by opponents of being a lame duck leader of a government that has run out of steam, Blair presented plans to give police greater powers to tackle offences ranging from low-level nuisance behavior to international organized crime.

Blair, in his 10th year in office, also promised new laws to fight terrorism if a review exposes gaps.

He will seek more tools for police to secure the country’s borders and ways to make it easier to track and deport foreign criminals.

The government also confirmed it would restore the link between rises in the basic state pension and earnings and would put into law long-term goals on cutting carbon emissions thought to cause global warming. There may also be interim targets.

“At the heart of my government’s program will be further action to provide strong, secure and stable communities, and to address the threat of terrorism,” said Queen Elizabeth II as she read Blair’s final package of laws to parliament in an elaborate ceremony that launched a new session.

On foreign policy, the government said it was committed to finding a lasting settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and to supporting Iraq’s fledgling government.

Blair’s support for the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq war has defined his final years, leading to a drastic decline in his popularity.

His Labour government has brought a stable economy and low inflation and has invested heavily in public services but Iraq will eclipse many of his achievements, analysts say.

“As long as the Iraq situation is not resolved, and perhaps even when it is, it is going to be the major defining event of Blair’s premiership,” said Wyn Grant, politics professor at Warwick University.

From asset to liability?
The Labour Party’s once massive parliamentary majority was slashed in a 2005 election, partly due to voter anger over Iraq, and Blair’s announcement that he would not seek a fourth term has emboldened party lawmakers to oppose him.

That could mean some of his anti-crime and anti-terrorism measures could struggle to pass through parliament.

Blair is expected to step down by mid-2007. He was forced in September to say he would go within a year to quell a revolt among Labour lawmakers who increasingly see as a liability the man who was once their best electoral asset.

This legislative agenda is largely a joint effort between Blair and finance minister Gordon Brown, tipped to succeed him.

The opposition Conservatives, who analysts say could win the next election, expected in 2009, accused Blair of rehashing old ideas and of failing to tackle crime or its causes.

The opposition Liberal Democrats said Blair suffered from “statutory addiction.”

Blair will also legislate to scrap juries in serious fraud trials and to roll out pilot schemes on road pricing.

To tackle global warming, the government will put into law its long-term goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent by 2050 and will consider “appropriate interim targets.”

Environmentalists, however, criticize Blair for failing to back annual binding targets on carbon emissions.