Blair Under Fire Over Iraq; Conservatives Unlikely to Benefit

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

( - British Prime Minister Tony Blair's election campaign has been dealt a blow by accusations of untrustworthiness relating to the Iraq war, but opinion polls suggest that Conservatives are not benefiting from Blair's difficulties.

Blair bowed Thursday to public pressure and released previously secret legal advice his attorney-general had given him 10 days before the war.

He did so after the document had been leaked to the media, forcing Iraq onto an agenda that had until now focused on economic issues.

In his March 7, 2003 memo, Attorney-General Lord Peter Goldsmith did not say he believed the war would be illegal. But he did express caution on a number of issues, and he said a second U.N. resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein would be "the safest legal course."

After releasing the document, Blair remained unapologetic about his decision to support the U.S.-led war.

"I took the view then, and I take it now, that it was better for this country's security and the security of the world to remove Saddam and put him in prison rather than have him in power," he said.

Michael Howard, leader of the official opposition Conservative Party, called Blair a liar.

"If you can't trust Mr. Blair on the decision to take the country to war, the most important decision a prime minister can take, how can you trust Mr. Blair on anything else ever again?" he told journalists.

But the Conservative Party supported the war, and if Labor sheds voters over Iraq it looks most likely that the third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats, will benefit.

Opinion polls by YouGov and MORI have given the Liberal Democrats -- who consistently opposed the war and Britain's role in it -- up to 24 points.

It's their best showing in almost two decades. In the last three elections, the Liberal Democrats have failed to reach 20 percent of votes cast.

As the Liberal Democrats advance, Labor still leads the Conservatives by two points in the MORI poll and by four points in the YouGov one.

Labor strategists also are concerned that traditional Labor supporters will demonstrate their feelings by not voting at all (see related story).

When it comes to voter opinions on trustworthiness, neither Blair nor Howard scores particularly well.

In a YouGov poll in the Sunday Times this week, 57 percent of respondents said Blair "cannot be trusted to tell the truth." Howard's score was 44 percent while just 11 percent of respondents placed Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy in that category.

The poll was conducted before the latest row over Goldsmith's legal advice.

See related story:
UK Labor Party Worries About Election Turnout (Apr. 29, 2005)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow