| Tony Blair
London, Feb. 11 (Reuters): Britain’s Tony Blair is paying a high political price for his readiness to join a US-led war on Iraq, his poll ratings have slumped and his ambition to act as a transatlantic bridge looks ever more elusive.
The latest opinion poll in today’s Times newspaper gave Blair’s ruling Labour Party 35 per cent support, just one point ahead of its Conservative opponents — its lowest lead in a decade.
Other polls show most Britons would not back an attack on Iraq without a new UN mandate, and many will not support it even then.
“Millions and millions of people fundamentally believe the British government is wrong,” Labour member of parliament Jeremy Corbyn said. “We are in quite an isolated position both in Europe and the world.”
A televised meet-the-people show last week showed a Prime Minister painfully out of touch with the ordinary Britons who elected him. Blair was forced to field a volley of hostile questions, notably over his high-profile support for US President George W. Bush.
Opposition within his own party is just as fierce, with anger high over Blair’s unflinching backing for Washington’s line on Iraq and the yawning chasm between Britain and the big players of Europe, France and Germany. After nearly six years in power and with a huge majority in parliament, Blair, 49, will not panic — yet. But if a military campaign gets drawn out, damage to the Prime Minister, ever keen to stride the world stage, could prove more permanent at home. Elections to the Scottish and Welsh parliaments and local councils across England on May 1 will be a key litmus test.
Blair must brace for dissent at a party conference this weekend, while in London, up to half-a-million people are expected to march in what is being billed as the biggest anti-war demonstration in decades.
Nor does Blair have many friends to turn to outside Britain.
The schism between “Old Europe” — as hawkish US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld has scathingly dubbed France and Germany over their anti-war stance — and the US makes Blair’s strategic ambition to be a bridge between the two camps, with real influence in both, look like a pipe dream.
France and Germany, with Russian support, have flagged a plan for more rigorous weapons inspections in Iraq, more diplomacy and more time.