From Barbados back to reality

Last updated at 08:44 30 August 2005

The delights of Barbados, where the Prime Minister has spent the past three weeks enjoying a millionaire's lifestyle, must seem a world away as he prepares to plough through his in-tray on his return from holiday.

How goes the war on terror? Well, the Government's much vaunted 'crackdown' has not led to the expulsion of a single 'preacher of hate'. So much for Mr Blair's eve-of-holiday warning

that 'the rules of the game are changing'.

What about Iraq? Violent anarchy grips the country and the new constitution - even if it receives the approval needed to ratify it in the national referendum - looks certain to ignite civil war when the occupying forces pull out. So much for the coalition's pledge to create a beacon of democracy in the region.

And on domestic matters?

As we have seen again these past two weeks, GCSEs and A-levels have become a (bad) national joke, while almost a half of all boys leave primary school unable to write properly. So much for education, education, education.

And despite billions of pounds in extra NHS investment, hospitals face a debt crisis, millions have no access to a dentist, and almost half of patients struggle to get an appointment with their GP. So much for Mr Blair's promise to deliver a health service that will be the envy of Europe.

With all these problems facing him on his return, what does the Prime Minister do? Why, he cranks up the Downing Street spin machine.

We hear as we always do at this time of year - you can almost set your watch by it - that he's ready to pick a fight with the Chancellor because he's 'obstructing' the Blair reforming zeal.

At the same time it's whispered that Charles Clarke is not up to the job - though why we should need the services of a Number 10 spin doctor for that blindingly obvious assessment is anyone's guess.

If this is the best Mr Blair can come up with when confronted by his party's serial inability to deliver on its promises and its legacy of dashed expectations, perhaps he should have stayed on the beach.

It simply reinforces the impression that this third-term Labour Government is bereft of vision and has no sense of momentum.

The reason is obvious. Mr Blair is working out his notice and focusing on what obsesses all Prime Ministers in their twilight days - their place in history. All around him his more ambitious ministers are just awaiting the succession.

As a result, the sense of authority ebbing away from the Prime Minister becomes almost palpable.

He should beware. If the drift continues, the pressure for Mr Blair to go sooner rather than later could become unstoppable.

Let the pubs pay

Talk about adding insult to injury.

As this paper has revealed, householders fighting to prevent pubs extending their opening hours under the Government's foolhardy plans for 24-hour drinking already have the odds stacked against them.

Now it emerges they may face bigger council tax bills because local authorities are having to employ extra staff to process the late rush of applications.

The councils warn it could add £60million to their costs over the next two years.

They say (quite rightly) it's unfair to land council taxpayers with this imposition. They want central government to pay - but that would still leave the taxpayer picking up the bill.

Isn't there a simple solution? There's only one group of people who are going to profit from this misbegotten legislation - and that's pub owners. They should pay.

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