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UK top-selling paper backs Blair

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Blair faces toughest battle yet in May 5 parliamentary elections. CNN's Robin Oakley reports.
Which party is best equipped to take Britain forward in 2005?
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Robin Oakley
UK election

LONDON, England (CNN) -- There was a new boost for Prime Minister Tony Blair when Britain's biggest selling newspaper said it was backing him for re-election.

The endorsement by the tabloid Sun Thursday was seen as important because the paper -- circulation 3.2 million -- is seen as a powerful influence on UK voters.

It has picked the winner in several British elections, famously declaring "It's the Sun Wot Won It" after it backed John Major's victorious Conservatives in 1992.

To give its decision a topical note after the election of a new pope, editors put a chimney on the paper's headquarters, promising to release red smoke for Blair's Labour Party, blue for the Conservatives and yellow for the Liberal Democrats.

In the end it was red smoke which indicated The Sun's backing of Blair in the May 5 contest.

"One last chance," said the headline in Thursday's edition.

"Two weeks ago, The Sun said its mind was still to be made up," said the newspaper, owned by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

"After taking a deep breath, The Sun backs Labour for a third term. It's Tony Blair's final election and he deserves one last chance to fulfil the great promises he keeps making, such as choice in schools and health care, tougher justice for criminals and proper control of illegal immigration."

The Sun gave credit to Blair for Britain's economy, for reforming the welfare state, and "most importantly, Iraq. We believe he deserves credit for his courage in backing America and going to war in Iraq," he said.

The generally right-leaning Sun has backed Blair's left-leaning Labour party in its past two elections victories. But it has campaigned against many of Blair's projects, such as closer integration with the European Union.

There had been speculation that The Sun might return to the Conservative fold for the first time since 1992.

Britain's Guardian newspaper said this was was fueled when owner Murdoch told the BBC's business editor, Jeff Randall, that he was impressed by Mr Howard's leadership of the Tory party.

But, said The Guardian, in remarks which received little attention at the time, he also said he would never forget Blair's steadfastness during the Iraq war.

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