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Ahead of polls, Blair majority melting away

London, May 3: With only a day to go before Thursday's general election in Britain, Tony Blair's massive majority of 161 in the last parliament seems to be melting away faster than an ice cream in the Calcutta sun.

One of the Labour MPs who might lose his seat is 33-year-old Sikh, Parmjit Dhanda, who won the mainly white constituency of Gloucester in 2001 with a thin majority of 3,380.

Although opinion polls suggest Blair will still win with a majority of around 70, the real battle is taking place in about 70 or so marginal seats where tactical voting to oust the sitting Labour MP makes the final tally exceptionally hard to predict.

All in all, things do not seem to be going Blair's way, although a Labour defeat still seems the most unlikely of the various permutations and combinations. Complicating matters is a report that a third of the electorate could change its mind and that two-third of first time voters may not bother to turn out on May 5.

Most ominously for the Prime Minister, Iraq has forced itself back into the agenda with the family of Anthony Wakefield, 24, of the 1st Battalion The Coldstream Guards, bitterly blaming Blair for his death. He was killed by a roadside bomb on Sunday, the 87th British soldier to have died in Iraq.

Normally, the British armed forces are very dignified about accepting death in action but, with Iraq, family after family has held Blair personally responsible for the loss of loved ones. Relatives of ten British soldiers who died in Iraq launched a bid today to take Prime Minister Tony Blair to court for 'lying' over the reasons he gave for taking the country to war.

They delivered a letter to Blair's Downing Street office demanding the Prime Minister order a full, independent public inquiry within 14 days or warning they would begin legal action. Today, Blair and his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, were barnstorming marginals, including Gloucester, where the Prime Minister was harangued by an Indian mechanic, Mohammed Jaffer.

'Tony, can we trust you after Iraq' asked Jaffer, who added he had previously always voted Labour.

'I think you have done a fantastic job of running this country, but foreign policy you need to look at really close up. We have lost hundreds of lives, thousands of lives. We got the impression you were just following President Bush.'

Jaffer's comments spell bad news for Dhanda for the former warned that Gloucester's Muslim community was deeply divided over whether to support Labour. Jaffer himself was '50-50' over the issue.

In response to Jaffer, Blair made his usual reply: 'In the end, you have got to try to do as Prime Minister what you think is right for the country and some of those decisions are very, very difficult. I think what you have got to ask yourself in the end is when you look at the election, what is going to determine the future of this country, and I believe it is the economy, the health service and schools and law and order and the things that affect people.

'Sometimes as a Prime Minister you will take decisions that people profoundly disagree with, but all you can do ' and it is your duty to do this as Prime Minister ' is to try to make the best decision that you think is in the interests of the country and leave the rest to the judgment of the British people.'

The timing of the latest British death in Iraq could not be worse for Blair, for the newspapers and television are carrying heartrending interviews with his partner and photographs of their children.

Guardsman Wakefield's partner, Ann Toward, said: 'It's Tony Blair's fault. He sent all those troops out. If he hadn't sent them out [Anthony] would still be here. He shouldn't have done it.'

The guardsman's children ' sons Scott, seven, and Corey, two ' and his stepdaughter Stacy, 11, were distraught at their father's death, she said.

'Corey didn't understand but Scott and Stacy were devastated, cried and cried,' their mother added. 'They are still talking about him, watching him on the television.'

 

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