Calls Mount for Blair to Quit Over Iraq
Sat September 6, 2003 08:21 PM ET
By Jeremy Lovell
LONDON (Reuters) - Pressure mounted on Sunday for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to quit over his part in the suicide of a weapons expert at the heart of a furious row over the government's case for going to war in Iraq.
A poll in the Mail on Sunday newspaper showed 43 percent of people believed Blair should resign over the affair, 42 percent believed he should stay in office and 15 percent were undecided.
The figures in the YouGov poll, taken the day after the judicial inquiry into the death of David Kelly adjourned for 10 days to allow Judge Lord Hutton to decided which witnesses to recall for cross examination, were the first to show that more voters are against Blair than for him.
The poll will come as a further blow for the once invincible leader of a Labour government with an unassailable parliamentary majority who has seen his personal trust ratings slump since the war to oust Saddam Hussein and who is facing a crescendo of criticism over his policies on education, health and crime.
Kelly, whose name was leaked by the government as the source of a BBC report accusing Blair's office of exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in order to strengthen the case for war, slit his wrist two days after a humiliating public grilling by a parliamentary committee.
His wife testified on Monday to the intense strain Kelly had been under and his sense of betrayal by his government employers.
Her moving testimony came just days after Blair took the stand, taking responsibility for the affair but rejecting the allegations and stating that if the charge of having knowingly mislead the country was proven he should resign.
FORMER MINISTERS ON OFFENSIVE
But it is not only from political opponents that Blair is facing sniping.
Increasingly militant trades unionists -- the former backbone of the Labour Party -- have gone on the offensive, as have some of Blair's own former cabinet ministers.
Former International Development Secretary Clare Short, who quit her post in May because she disapproved of the war in Iraq, wrote in the Independent on Sunday newspaper that Blair should stand by his own words over the Kelly affair.
"The prime minister has told us that the claim that he had knowingly exaggerated the threat from Iraqi chemical and biological weapons would be a resignation issue. It is now clear that the threat was exaggerated," she said.
Short, a maverick with a track record of speaking her mind, accused Blair and his chief aide Alastair Campbell, who quit a week ago, of effectively mounting a coup in the party, imposing their own policies by bludgeoning their opponents and lying.
"We have a prime minister so focused on presentation that there is inadequate consideration of the merits of policy.
"And beneath the smiling demeanor, a ruthlessness that is accompanied by a lack of respect for proper procedure, and a willingness to be "economical with the actuality," she wrote. "The cabinet has not functioned as a decision-making body since 1997."
Her attack followed an accusation by former Environment Minister Michael Meacher, who left the cabinet in June, in an article on Saturday that the United States had known about the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington but done nothing to prevent them as they were a perfect pretext for embarking on a long-planned war to get access to oil.
The article by inference accused Blair of at best naivety in his unflinching support of President Bush in his invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq.