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EDITIONS
Monday, 3 February, 2003, 16:54 GMT
Blair battles "poodle" jibes
President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair is eager to show his influence over Bush

He did not say so out loud - but Tony Blair wanted his backbenchers to believe he spent last weekend once again using his influence on George Bush not to rush into war.

He was delighted that the president had agreed to continue down the UN route, he said, suggesting George Bush would not have done so without his powers of persuasion.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush
Poodle jibes hit home
And there was no way Britain was being "led by the nose" into a war with Iraq, he said.

Some of his rebel backbenchers appeared to believe it and were reassured.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, amongst others, was not so sure.

Twice he pressed the prime minister to declare, if push came to shove, which route he would take - the US one or the UN one.

Uphill battle

Would he stick with Europe or walk off with America?

Mr Kennedy, who likes to think he is speaking for the majority of the electorate on this issue, was touching on the jibe which falls readily to so many lips.

"Tony Blair is no more than George Bush's poodle."

It is a jibe that stings the prime minister and which he is desperate to nail. But he is fighting an uphill battle.

Each time he is asked whether the president is as committed as he is to seeking a second UN resolution before bombing Baghdad, he always says "yes" before quickly explaining the reasons why it may be necessary to go ahead without one.

Useful tool

The trouble with this line is, quite simply, a large number of people do not believe it.

And the president's comments after the weekend war summit clearly suggest he is far less bothered about a second resolution than is the prime minister.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
Saddam is defying UN
At worst, the critics think the prime minister is being "led by the nose" and is ready to chose America over Europe and the rest.

At best, they think that the president is only going along the UN route because it suits him to keep the international community on board. For the moment.

The British prime minister is merely a useful tool for keeping the troublesome countries relatively sweet.

Real test to come

When it comes to the crunch, the US will do what the US wants, runs their argument.

The prime minister will probably never completely dispel this idea, which he believes it is born out of anti-Americanism.

In any case, he keeps expressing his confidence that, when the time comes, the UN will give him the second resolution.

If that is the case, much of the opposition to his actions will dissolve.

It is when the UN refuses, or delays for longer than president Bush is prepared to wait, that the real test of this policy will come.

It is a test Tony Blair desperately hopes he will never have to face.


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See also:

31 Jan 03 | Americas
03 Feb 03 | Politics
02 Feb 03 | Politics
02 Feb 03 | Middle East
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