Blair Enjoys Good Polls Despite Corruption Allegations

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - British Prime Minister Tony Blair is strongly favored to trounce all opponents if an early election is called, despite allegations of ministerial corruption.

He leads the official opposition Conservative Party's leader William Hague by 47 percentage points to 14, with Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy at 13, according to an ICM opinion poll for the BBC Monday.

Blair is widely expected to take advantage of his voter popularity by calling an election in early May, although his first term only runs out a year later.

Other recent polls have placed his Labor Party 20 points ahead of the Conservatives, who are struggling to capitalize on a range of problems faced by the government.

These include a string of allegations of political "sleaze" of the type Blair promised to eradicate from British politics when he came to power in 1997.

The spate began with the resignation last January of the former Northern Ireland Minister and close Blair ally, Peter Mandelson.

He was accused of lying about his role in a successful attempt by a wealthy and controversial Indian businessman to secure British nationality after he donated a million pounds to a key government project.

A government inquiry into what became known as the "cash-for-passports affair" this week cleared Mandelson of wrongdoing, but he is unlikely to return to the cabinet, and the Indian's association with other Labor politicians continues to raise questions.

In another incident, Blair's office is accused of pressuring civil servants to speed up a 1998 planning decision for a business school financed by a billionaire Syrian arms dealer, Wafic Said.

The three-year old story was revived at the weekend with the emergence of an alleged planning official's memo complaining about coming under pressure from Blair's office.

Planning Minister Nick Raynsford denied that there had been any intervention by the prime minister or his officials and stressed that he had taken the decision "quite properly" to let the project go ahead.

Nonetheless, the Conservatives sought to link the Said affair to the Mandelson passport episode, saying it appeared to be "a case of yet another foreign donor and his influential friends obtaining access and influence that is not available to ordinary people."

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are also calling for Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to resign over the claim, contained in a newly published book, that he had broken a ministerial code of conduct in 1999.

Cook was accused of deceiving lawmakers on three occasions over a leaked report relating to the supply of British weapons to conflict-ridden Sierra Leone in contravention of a U.N. embargo.

And in yet another development, Cook's junior colleague, Foreign Office Minister Keith Vaz, was found Monday to have recommended a businessman for a peerage without declaring the fact that the man in question had made a modest political donation to him.

Vaz was cleared of a number of other allegations under investigation by a parliamentary standards watchdog, although the body did criticize him for failing to answer all of its questions "fully and promptly," thus making it impossible to complete investigations into eight other complaints against him.

Labor swept to power in 1997 promising to be "whiter than white" following a string of corruption scandals involving members of the former Conservative government.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow