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Fettered Blair back at No 10 on Brown success

London, May 6: Tony Blair celebrated his 52nd birthday today by winning an historic third term in office, which no other Labour Prime Minister has ever been able to do.

However, since his 161 majority in 2001 is expected to be slashed to 66 when all the counting in yesterdayís British general election is completed, there will probably be pressure on him to hand over sooner rather than later to Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer.

Blair paid the price for taking Britain to an unpopular war over Iraq. It was Brownís success in giving Britain economic stability, controlling inflation and reducing unemployment to one of the lowest levels in Europe that was probably the main factor in persuading voters to back Labour despite deep anger over the Prime Ministerís decision to go to war.

The Tories won only 33 more seats to increase its tally to 197 but this will not be enough to save its leader, Michael Howard, who announced today he will step down because he will be 67 or 68 years old by the time of the next general election. The chances are he will be gone by the autumn.

His successor should be in place by the end of the year after rules for choosing a new leader are worked out to give Tory MPs a greater say in the process. The Liberal Democrats, who say that British politics is now a three-party race, did well to increase their tally from 52 to 62 under Charles Kennedy.

Although Blair has got back, the sharply lower majority proves just how unpopular the Iraq war ' and the Prime Minister ' have become. Blair himself became the main election issue after Howard accused him of being a 'liar'.

So far as India is concerned, Blairís victory means it is business as usual in pursuing the strategic relationship he chalked out with Manmohan Singh when the two met at 10, Downing Street, last September. They will have another meeting in July when Singh comes to the UK for the G8 summit (and to collect his honorary degree from Oxford).

Blair and his ministers have fought off trade unions which wanted protective measures erected to stop outsourcing of British jobs to India.

Unlike British Muslims (mainly of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin), who were split over whether to support Labour candidates yesterday, most Indian voters were probably quite comfortable with supporting Blairís return.

Unlike Howard, who made control of immigration a central Tory issue, Blairís repeated defence of the positive contribution immigrants have made to Britain confirmed him as more attractive proposition to voters of Indian origin.

Brown, who is a Scottish MP, does not have any emotional links to India. He could find himself Prime Minister within a year or two, which means Indian ministers will have to build links with him from scratch.

Britain may be the worldís oldest democracy but last nightís counting of ballot boxes, which began the moment the polls closed at 10 pm, was done by hand. First results started coming in within 45 minutes. By early morning, most of the counting was done.

Before entering 10, Downing Street, Blair posed for pictures with his wife, Cherie, and their four children.

The two boys, Euan, 21, and Nicky, 19, flanked their mother in smart, sober suits ' Euan opting for his fatherís often favoured combination of white shirt and red tie.

After troubled teenage years, which saw him arrested for being drunk and incapable in Leicester Square, the Blairís eldest son appeared a model of respectability. He appeared alongside his father during election campaigning.

Daughter Kathryn Blair, 17, stood at her fatherís shoulder and waved confidently to the crowd .

The Prime Minister hoisted four-year-old Leo into the air. Dressed in a white shirt, cropped trousers and fashionable brown sandals, the youngest Blair ' the first child born to a serving British Prime Minister in 150 years ' offered an impish grin to photographers as his mother led him on to the Downing Street pavement.

Psychologists claim those images could also help Blair restore his troubled relationship with the electorate.

The problem for Blair is that the process of democratic government has been subverted by the huge majorities he won in 1997 and 2001. Collective cabinet decision making was replaced by a more presidential style of government, under which even taking the country to war appears to have been reached by a cabal of non-elected advisers.

Despite the key part anger over the Iraq war played in preventing another Labour landslide, he insisted that people wanted to 'move on' from the issue.

He addressed reporters outside Number 10 after returning from Buckingham Palace where the Queen asked him to form a new government. This is a quaint custom but all Prime Ministers follow age-old tradition.

His first job will be to reshuffle his cabinet Blair said: 'It is a tremendous honour and privilege to be elected for a third term. The great thing about an election is that you go out and you talk to people for week upon week. And I have listened and I have learned.'

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