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Despite Low Approval Rating, Blair Says He Will See His Reforms Through


Although he secured his third election victory this year, 2005 will go down as arguably the most politically troubling for Tony Blair as a score of problems continued to mount for the prime minister. In his final monthly news conference of the year, Mr. Blair outlined Wednesday his difficult political course ahead.

Tony Blair looked tired at the news conference, a day after an ICM poll in the Guardian newspaper showed that most Britons are now tired of him.

Two-thirds of those voters surveyed said his government has "run out of steam." And that same poll put the main opposition Conservative party ahead of Mr. Blair's ruling Laborites by a slender margin. It is only the second time The Conservatives have edged out Labor in an ICM poll here in 12 years.

Tony Blair shrugged off the disappointing numbers saying he is too mature to start worrying about poll figures and his job was to see his legislative agenda through.

"The thing that should worry the Labor party is that if there was a big idea coming towards it we did not seem to have an answer to," he said. "But that is not what is coming towards us. What is coming towards us is actually a very simple political challenge. Do you stick as New Labor or at the very time when others are trying to become like us, do you go and vacate the ground and give it to somebody else? Not a sensible idea in my view."

But his recent handling of the European Union budget, terrorism legislation and a contentious education bill have all taken their toll on the British leader's standing in the country.

Iraq as well has deeply affected Mr. Blair.

The prime minister was again asked about the legality of so-called CIA rendition flights that may have landed in Britain. Mr. Blair said he knew nothing of the any such activities. This despite the fact that former Secretary of State Colin Powell told the BBC over the weekend that European states should not be surprised by such actions.

"All I know is, we should keep within the law at all times and the notion that I or the Americans or anybody else approve or condone torture or ill treatment or degrading treatment, that is completely and totally out of order in any sort of circumstances," he said.

Pressed on the issue, the prime minister insisted he would not allow any public investigation to take place even though he admitted he did not know all of the facts.

"I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that anything illegal has been happening here at all and I am not going to start ordering inquiries into this, that and the next thing that I have got no evidence to show whether this is right or not," Tony Blair said.

Mr. Blair says he will not stand for another election. He says he will go at a time of his own choosing. But if 2005 was difficult for him, 2006 looks even tougher. And for many Labor party members he is seen increasingly as a liability and their new year's wish is that he leaves sooner rather than later.

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