Michael Howard has opened up a new front in the second half of the election
campaign with his most direct attacks yet on Tony Blair's honesty and
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website
For the second day running he has accused the prime minister of being a
Asked if he was calling the prime minister a liar, Mr Howard said "yes"
That is the most serious allegation a party leader can make about his
So much so that if it is ever shown a leader deliberately lied to MPs in the
Commons, he or she would have no option but to resign.
It is a weapon rarely used directly by political leaders against their
opponents, although any number of other phrases are used to suggest
But, in an interview with the BBC's Breakfast with Frost, Mr Howard again
showed he was not about to hang back from levelling the gravest of
allegations against the prime minister.
'Take a stand'
"It is time for the British people to take a stand, to make a judgement on
Tony Blair's character," he said.
Asked by Sir David Frost if he was calling Tony Blair a liar, he replied
"yes" and pointed to both pre-election promises not to increase taxes and
the case against Iraq as evidence of the prime minister's dishonesty.
How will voters react to the attacks on Mr Blair's record on Iraq?
And he repeated his claim that Mr Blair lied to win elections - the
implication being that he is doing the same during this campaign.
Honesty and trustworthiness have been undercurrents throughout this election
contest and during the months leading up to it.
But, until now, they have not surfaced as a key theme. That seems to be
about to change.
It appears Mr Howard is planning to use the last days of the campaign to
focus on the issue.
And it is a theme expected to be taken up by the Liberal Democrats in the
final phase of the contest.
What both Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy know is that the prime minister has taken
a hit in the wake of the Iraq war in particular.
Polls suggest he may be a liability for Labour with some voters who give
Chancellor Gordon Brown a higher trust rating.
It is something Labour and the prime minister himself are aware of, with Mr
Blair admitting early on that he was likely to be an "issue" during the
It is one of the reasons he has been appearing with Mr Brown alongside, and
why the manifesto launch, in particular, stressed the team rather than the
What cannot be fathomed from the polls, however, is whether there is any
more damage to be done to the prime minister and Labour on this front.
Many believe any negative impact with voters has already happened - that
they have mostly made up their minds what they think of the prime minister
on this issue.
When it comes to voting, they will be swayed by other issues such as the
economy, crime and immigration.
But both the opposition parties clearly believe there is still plenty of
mileage left in this issue.
It looks like the currently low key, even lacklustre campaign may be about
to take a new turn.