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Last Updated: Monday, 25 April, 2005, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Can Iraq damage Blair further?
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Tony Blair must have long ago abandoned any hope that he could draw a line under his decision to go to war on Iraq.

Troops in Iraq
Iraq back on the agenda
He will also have known with absolute certainty that it would come back to harry him during the election campaign.

And sure enough, both the opposition parties have entered the last leg of the campaign by putting Iraq back at the top of the agenda.

Michael Howard has even changed tack in his campaign to warn voters they have one last chance to send a message to Mr Blair - effectively urging them to put the prime minister's character on trial.

The question for Tony Blair, however, is whether any more damage can be done to his chances of re-election by the continuation of this row during the campaign. The opposition parties clearly believe so.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has claimed the prime minister misled Britain into the war and demanded a full public inquiry and publication of the legal advice from the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.

Michael Howard has gone further by accusing Mr Blair of lying to get his way over the war, as well as on other issues such as taxation.

Simple choice

The main thrust of both the attacks is that the prime minister cannot be trusted and that his judgement was fundamentally, even dangerously flawed.

The prime minister, attempting to disguise his exasperation with the subject, has agreed it finally comes down to a matter of judgement and that voters will have to decide whether he made the right one.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair has been damaged by war
He has previously gone so far as to suggest those people looking for an apology from him will not get one and if that persuades them to vote for another party, so be it.

He insists his judgement ultimately came down to a simple choice. Once he had failed to get a second UN resolution, should he remove Saddam or leave him in place?

His critics, however, claim he had a third option - to allow the UN weapons inspectors more time to complete their search for weapons of mass destruction, which did not exist.

They also point out that the prime minister himself said in the last days before the war that, if Saddam complied with UN regulations, he could remain in power.

And all this has come against the background of a leak said to show details of the Attorney General's concerns over the possible illegality of military action. His full advice has never been published but the summary outlined to MPs showed that he believed the war was legal.

Nothing to offer

Despite the continuing speculation over that advice - and whether it changed at the last minute - both Mr Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in a particularly tough grilling on the BBC's Today programme, insisted it would never be published.

Mr Straw would not, however, say the leaked reports were inaccurate. That will ensure the demands for publication continue.

Lord Goldsmith
Lib Dems want Lord Goldsmith's advice published
Yet none of these arguments are particularly new and have led Mr Blair to claim the fact they have been revived shows the other parties have nothing else to offer during the campaign.

And from his own remarks, it appears he is hoping this row will not do him more damage in the final days of the campaign than it has already inflicted.

That damage has clearly been significant, as the prime minister appears to admit himself, but it does not appear to be terminal.

There are plenty of indications that, as far as voters are concerned, the war is not near the top of their election concerns.

Those are, as usual, the economy, health, education and law and order.

But that is unlikely to stop the opposition parties keeping up their attacks over the war.





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