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Blair Defiant Despite Major Anti-Terrorism Legislative Setback

Prime Minister Tony Blair has held his first cabinet meeting after suffering a major political defeat. The British leader tried and failed Wednesday to push through legislation that would have extended substantially the length of time terrorist suspects could be held without charge.

Prime Minister Blair had staked his reputation his plan to increase to 90 days the time police could hold terror suspects without charging them. Thursday, the day after his defeat, he gathered his ministers together to assess the political damage from the battle he lost in parliament.

His press spokesman said afterwards, the prime minister believes there is "a worrying gap" between the view taken by his political opponents on the issue and the terrorist threat.

The top law and order official in his government, Home Secretary Charles Clarke later remarked, Mr. Blair still believes he was right to fight for the full 90 day detention option.

"I think he felt importantly that he had done what he thought was right for the country and certainly I did," said Mr. Clarke.

But the morning newspapers here were highly critical of Mr. Blair. The Times and the Daily Mail both asked if this was the 'beginning of the end' for him. And the Daily Telegraph simply called it "Blair's blackest day."

Many analysts agree the legislative defeat will damage Mr. Blair, but as Charlie Whelan, a former press spokesman for the government's treasury secretary says, the real question is: will this persuade the prime minister to change his style and listen more to others?

"He wants to lead from the front," Mr. Whelan said. "But he must realize if he wants to stay on in office you know, for a full term as he says, then he really does need to compromise. And after all, if he had compromised yesterday, he would not have had this defeat."

Mr. Blair's popularity slumped after Britain's entry into the Iraq war and he has never recovered.

Just six months into his third term, Tony Blair faces a tough and long road ahead.