The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blair faces key poll test today

London, Sept. 17 (Reuters): Prime Minister Tony Blair faces a stiff electoral test tomorrow — the first since a British weapons expert took his own life and the government tumbled into crisis over the war on Iraq.

The north London seat of Brent East, whose member of parliament Paul Daisley died earlier this year, should be iron-clad for Blair’s Labour Party, which has held it for years. Daisley won at the 2001 election with 63 per cent of the vote and a majority of more than 13,000.

But polling on the ground suggests the Liberal Democrats, who opposed the Iraq war, could snatch it.

Home secretary David Blunkett admitted this week his party could lose. “If people don’t turn out and vote, if Labour voters stay at home, it will allow the Lib Dems to win,” he said.

Blair has not lost a by-election seat held by his party since taking power in 1997.

On the face of it, a marginal reduction in Blair’s huge 165-seat parliamentary majority looks inconsequential.

But timing is all. If Brent East is lost, the damage to Blair will be heavy at a time when opinion polls show most Britons no longer trust him and his annual Labour Party conference looms, with activists angry about a war they opposed.

Government scientist David Kelly slashed his wrist in July after he was exposed as the source of a BBC report accusing Blair of hyping the case for war to win over sceptical Britons.

Blair's public trust ratings have since evaporated, with most Britons doubting the case he made for attacking Iraq and many blaming his administration for Kelly's demise.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy tried to raise the stakes in parliament on Wednesday, asking why Blair ignored the advice of his intelligence chiefs that toppling Saddam Hussein would increase rather than lower the risk of banned weapons falling into the hands of militants such as al Qaeda.

”Why didn't he play it straight with the British public at the time'” Kennedy asked.

Blair said it would have been“totally irresponsible” to allow Saddam to continue developing biological and chemical weapons unchecked. But five months after the Iraqi leader was ousted, no such weapons have been found.

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