London, July 25: Tony Blairís reputation for strong leadership has been shattered by the David Kelly affair, with almost two thirds of voters believing that he heads a government that has lost control of events.
As the Prime Minister returned to Downing Street yesterday to try calm the crisis caused by Kellyís apparent suicide, a YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph showed that trust in Blair was ebbing away. It showed the Tories had stretched their lead to three points, up one from last month when they overtook Labour for the first time in a decade. They are on 37 per cent, Labour 34 and Liberal Democrats 22.
Even more worrying for the Prime Minister was the number of voters who no longer believed his government was strong enough to handle the challenges it faced and who questioned his honesty. Sixty-one per cent of voters said the government seemed to have ďlost control and be at the mercy of eventsĒ, 65 per cent said it did not know where it was going; and 47 per cent said they did not believe a word Blair said.
More voters favoured Gordon Brown, the chancellor, as his successor than all other potential challengers put together. One of the few plus signs for Labour was that 46 per cent of the voters surveyed thought it had done a good job on the economy.
The dramatic loss of faith in Blair is reminiscent of the latter years of John Majorís Premiership when his government lurched from crisis to crisis. The poll findings will cause deep alarm in Downing Street. Labour strategists have always believed that one of Blairís main selling points is that he exudes authority and is seen as a natural and strong leader.