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Britain: Blair Ahead As General Election Nears

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Britain goes to the polls tomorrow (Thursday) in a general election that is expected to return Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor government to power for a second term in office. But if the opposition Conservatives win, the European Union's present policy on enlargement -- which is based on last December's Nice Treaty -- is in for a rough time. The Tories, as they are called, reject the treaty in its present form and say they will immediately demand a renegotiation.

Prague, 6 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Opinion polls continue to show British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Labor Party as the favorites in tomorrow's general election.

But the latest polls also indicate Blair's lead over the main opposition Conservative Party is slimming. This has set Labor's alarm bells ringing and the party has appealed to supporters not to be complacent, but to turn out in large numbers to vote. Blair himself made an appeal in a television appearance today. He said:

"So, what I am saying to people is, never mind about the polls or the pundits. This is your election. Come out and vote because it is important, that it matters." Labor and other politicians have been using modern technology to reach the voters, including messages on mobile phones, the Internet, and e-mail.

As for the substance of the campaigning, Labor has emphasized its commitment to a major improvement in public services, notably Britain's decrepit health and education systems. Commentators say the Labor program marks a return to more traditional left-leaning preoccupations.

The Conservatives, led by William Hague, decided to focus their campaign on British discontent with the European Union and the prospect -- unwelcome to the Tories -- that Labor will lead Britain into the euro single currency. Hague today expressed confidence that his party can carry the election:

"Yeah, I believe we can win. Yes, and I hope you are all ready for a busy day. We are going to have a very busy day, the final day of campaigning in the election."

The Conservatives have said that if they do gain power, they will go to next week's EU summit in Gothenburg and demand a renegotiation on part of the Nice Treaty -- the as yet unratified EU treaty that is meant to open the way for eastward enlargement of the Union.

A delay in ratification could mean a delay in the accession process. Critics of the Nice document say the Union could simply go ahead with enlargement under the previous treaty, the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty. However, the current EU president, Sweden's Prime Minister Goran Persson, recently characterized adoption of the Nice Treaty as a "prerequisite" for carrying through eastward expansion.