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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Sets Date for British Elections

LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday called a national election on May 5, triggering a four-week campaign that will test a volatile electorate's judgment of the Iraq war.

Despite lingering anger over the U.S.-led invasion, Blair's governing Labour Party is widely expected to win a third term in office, bolstered by a strong economy.

"We are proud of what we have achieved in the last eight years," Blair said, after asking Queen Elizabeth II's permission to dissolve Parliament.

"It's a big choice and there's a lot at stake," he added, standing outside his Downing Street office. "The British people are the boss and they are the ones who will make it." During the campaign, Blair is expected to focus on domestic issues -- such as healthcare, education and crime -- in an effort to reconnect with alienated voters. Pledges to continue investing in public services and promoting economic stability should feature in the Labour campaign.

The poll will be an important personal test for Blair. A charismatic and dynamic leader, he helped catapult Labour to power in 1997, with a promise to boost investment in Britain's ailing schools, hospitals and public transportation. His government won a second landslide election victory in 2001, but the war, and the government's use of intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be wrong, have severely dented his credibility.

Blair's popularity has been further eroded by his close relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush and the perception that he slavishly follows Washington's foreign policy without exerting any real influence. However, many analysts believe Blair has weathered the worst of the Iraq storm. His personal ratings have improved markedly from last year's slump, and his supporters view the elections in Iraq as providing some vindication for the war.

Several opinion polls published Tuesday showed Labour giving ground slightly to the Conservatives, although still with leads of between 2 and 5 percentage points. Given the margin of error, the parties were virtually neck and neck. Analysts say, however, that the Conservatives would need a lead of several points to win the election, due to an uneven spread of constituencies across Britain's electoral map.

Labour has a massive lead in the 659-seat House of Commons, with 410 lawmakers -- 161 more than all the other parties combined.

Most believe that such a lead is insurmountable. But Labour officials fear that a low turnout by core Labour supporters, coupled with a voter backlash over the war, could substantially cut the government's majority.