Blair’s survival in doubt

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is on shaky ground and he knows it. Over the weekend, Blair admitted his job is on the line as he prepared to face Parliament on the issues of tuition hikes in England’s universities and the Hutton report.

The majority of parliament is reported to be against the tuition hikes. So much so that the necessary votes for a “no confidence” vote may be garnered.

This tuition matter will be compounded by the findings of Lord Hutton regarding the death of weapons expert David Kelly. Blair said the report would be a judgment of his integrity.

Nonetheless, Blair intends to tough it out and confront his opponents head on. “I think in this job you spend the entire time at risk,” he told an interviewer for London’s The Observer, “so there is not a moment when you are not.”

Those close to Blair said if he loses the tuition increase fight and then draws criticism from Hutton’s report, things could begin to fall apart.

Blair said he has every intention of keeping his job, but he would not directly comment on the Hutton inquiry.

“Tough choices mean tough decisions,” he said, “and it was always going to be difficult to persuade people. The principal thing in government is to do what you think is right, to realize that whatever the short-term difficulties of making a decision and seeing it through, in the end people will give you credit for trying to tackle those difficult questions.”

Commenting on the Hutton inquiry, Blair said: “The Conservative leader in particular has accused me of lying over weapons of mass destruction, and as far as the report touches on these issues, it will be important.”

Blair suffered a major blow on that score late last week when David Kay, the U.S. official who led the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said Iraq did not have huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Kay quit his post after nine months in charge of the Iraq Survey Group. He said he does not believe there was any large-scale weapons program in Iraq since 1991.

Kay, a CIA official close to the Republicans, rapped President Bush, saying the president did not give him adequate support.

His comments will put added pressure on Mr. Blair as he attempts to emerge victorious from his conflict with Parliament.

A recent poll for a British television show found almost 60 percent of Brits thought Blair should quit if he is criticized by Hutton for disclosing Kelly as the source for news stories on Iraqi intelligence reports or for exaggerating that intelligence as a reason for invading Iraq.

One in three Brits said they trusted Blair less than they did before the inquiry began. Blair’s opposition is demanding an independent probe into whether there was an intelligence failure, one which would have a broader scope than the Hutton inquiry.

Blair-like, President Bush already has shifted his position from being certain that Saddam’s arsenal would be found to saying instead that evidence of weapons programs would turn up.

If Blair loses in the battle with Parliament, there could be a confidence vote as early as next week. The Prime Minister has said if the outcomes of these issues—the tuition hikes or Iraq—are negative, he will resign.

Such a turn of events could have damaging effects on the re-election bid of Bush.


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