Blair Under Fire for Support of Iraq War British Prime Minister Tony Blair, like President George Bush, is facing a serious crisis of public confidence as a result of his stance on the war in Iraq. Earlier this month, Blair lost a crucial vote in parliament, his first such defeat in eight years.
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Blair Under Fire for Support of Iraq War

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Blair Under Fire for Support of Iraq War

Blair Under Fire for Support of Iraq War

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is having problems with public confidence because of the war in Iraq. Earlier this month, Blair lost a crucial vote in Parliament, his first such defeat in eight years. The issues was a controversial anti-terrorism measure. But as NPR's Deborah Amos reports from London, Blair's support for US policy in Iraq was also a major factor in his defeat.

(Soundbite of traffic noise)

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

The London transport system has 6,000 security cameras on 24-hour watch. Now after the July suicide attacks on three London trains and a bus, the number of cameras will double.

Unidentified Woman: Please enter your station ID.

(Soundbite of tones being entered)

Unidentified Woman: Please enter your PIN number.

AMOS: But the security supervisor at Westminster Station, John Cooney, says even that won't be enough.

Mr. JOHN COONEY (Security Supervisor, Westminster Station): Suppose that if somebody's determined to set a bomb off on a train, you can't stop them. You just can't stop that.

Unidentified Woman: To listen again, press one.

(Soundbite of beeping countdown)

Mr. NICK CLARK: "The World at One." This is Nick Clark with 30 minutes of news and comment on the headlines today.

Three men have been charged with terrorism offenses, two of them with plotting an explosion.

AMOS: Even as the British Parliament was considering the government's tough new anti-terrorism bill, Britons were still being arrested on terrorism charges. All this concern about security should have made it an easy vote for Prime Minister Tony Blair, but a key feature set off a heated debate about police powers: a plan to extend holding suspects without charge for three months, rather than the current 14 days. Blair would not compromise, putting his authority on the line. His stunning loss came from his own party, when 49 Labor members of Parliament refused to back him.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): It's obviously a defeat I wish hadn't had happened. But the reason I wish it hadn't happened is that we were trying to do the right thing for the country.

AMOS: Blair's power over his party is waning, says Anne McElvoy, executive editor of the conservative newspaper the Evening Standard.

Ms. ANNE McELVOY (Executive Editor, Evening Standard): I think Mr. Blair thought that his magic would swing it, and this time the magic failed to work. It was a serious miscalculation by the prime minister, probably his first serious miscalculation in terms of his position in Parliament.

AMOS: The miscalculation, says McElvoy and other British analysts, was to use a familiar strategy, in short: `Trust me. I have seen the intelligence.'

Professor MICHAEL CLARK (Kings College): Tony Blair said exactly that on the weapons of mass destruction before the Gulf War.

AMOS: Michael Clark is a professor of defense studies at Kings College in London.

Prof. CLARK: Really saying to the public, `Trust me. I know things that you don't,' and his credibility was so affected by the black-and-white terms in which the Iraq War was put that I think he's really struggling with that now.

Professor MICHAEL COX (London School of Economics): And when a prime minister runs out of trust, he is--in some sense, is in a weak situation.

AMOS: Michael Cox teaches international relations at the London School of Economics.

Prof. COX: This is where foreign policy is impacted on domestic politics. It will make it difficult for him then to deliver on a whole bunch of other domestic issues, as well as foreign policy ones.

AMOS: Another blow to Blair: the publication of a memoir by a political insider. Christopher Meyer claims the prime minister failed to use his influence at the White House to slow the rush to war and insist on a postwar plan to rebuild Iraq. This from Britain's ambassador to Washington during the run-up to the war. For Professor Cox, Meyer's book was a turning point.

Prof. COX: To put it in old-fashioned terms, I think the rats are jumping off the ship; that's what's happening. The kiss-and-tell is beginning because I think people want to make their distance from the original decision to go to war. Therefore, Bush and Blair are going to find themselves increasingly isolated.

AMOS: The Evening Standard's Anne McElvoy says Blair is now putting some distance between himself and his closest ally in Washington.

Ms. McELVOY: First, he was very proud of his relationship with George Bush, and we had lots of pictures of Bush next to Blair. Now Bush is pretty much airbrushed out of the picture. It's, `Oh, it's this guy over in the White House. I have to go see him sometimes, but it's not like we're close or anything.'

AMOS: Both wartime leaders are struggling to maintain their commitment to Iraq. The call for troop withdrawal is also growing in Britain. Blair's recent defeat could hasten demands for him to step down long before the next election, scheduled in 2009.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

AMOS: In Parliament, his political rival Michael Howard, who just stepped down as leader of the opposition Conservative Party, said he and Blair had something in common.

Mr. MICHAEL HOWARD (Member of Parliament): He and I are both on our way out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMOS: Blair's response was dismissive.

Prime Min. BLAIR: Well, let me give him some advice. When he wins an election...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prime Min. BLAIR: ...then give some advice to someone who's won three.

(Soundbite of cheering)

AMOS: For Blair, it's not the opposition that is a concern, but whether his own party turns against him. Deborah Amos, NPR News, London.

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