Blair's Premiership in Danger over Iraq
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
For months, it has been rare for a week to go by without the emergence of some new and highly damaging revelation about British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Iraq policy. Before the conflict, Britain was deeply divided over the justification for war, resulting in the largest protest rallies in nation's history. In its aftermath, Blair's standing with the British people has been devastated. His personal ratings, as well as those of his party, have plummeted. Last week, inquiry evidence given by a top defence official may eventually prove to be a killer blow for Blair. He now effectively has a sword of Damocles hanging over his political future.
Since July, the pressure on the prime minister has been unrelenting and last week's inquiry disclosures may be a factor behind Blair's sudden heart condition. While Blair may be an amazingly gifted politician, he is also mortal. To witness the destruction by a thousand painful cuts of his own once glittering premiership is probably too much for him, or any man, to bear. Before Iraq, Blair was the undisputed master of British politics. Today, the majority of people no longer trust him and his party's opinion poll ratings are at a decade low.
The turning point of the current crisis came on 17 July. On that day a government scientist, Dr. David Kelly, committed suicide. He was one of Britain's leading experts on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and was involved in unauthorized discussions with journalists about his concerns over Blair's justifications for going to war. The government initiated a search to discover who had spoken to the press. After tracing Kelly as the source, his name was quickly released to the media. A week later, he committed suicide in an isolated wood.
The suicide occurred while Blair was on his way to Tokyo from Washington, where he had been applauded by both houses of the Congress. By the time he arrived in Japan, his fortunes had gone into reverse-gear. Blair's phenomenal political instincts probably told him that the Kelly suicide held the potential to destroy his premiership. During a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, Blair almost appeared to breakdown. In a scene now frequently rebroadcast on British TV, an English journalist asked Blair, "Have you got blood on your hands, Prime Minister? Are you going to resign?" Blair seemed to fall into a silent state of shock and needed to be rescued from his predicament by Koizumi who terminated proceedings and escorted Blair off stage.
As a result of Kelly taking his own life, an official investigation, the Hutton Inquiry, was set up to establish the facts surrounding the scientist's death. Blair has publicly denied having any direct involvement in the policy of naming Kelly, a tactic which is believed to be the principle trigger behind the suicide.
The inquiry hearings ended last month, but due to an eye-operation the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Kevin Tebbit, was unable to give evidence. For this reason, the inquiry held a special one-day session to hear Sir Kevin's testimony.
Aggressively questioned over who was ultimately responsible for the policy that led to the naming of the late scientist, Sir Kevin eventually admitted that it "was as a result of a meeting chaired by the prime minister." This one admission could eventually cost Blair his job. The inquiry had previously established that the prime minister chaired several meetings dealing with Dr. Kelly, but it was not know that he personally took the key decision to make the man's name public. Furthermore, Sir Kevin's comments appear to be at odds with Blair's emphatic denial about his own level of involvement in the policy. These revelations will reinforce the public's impression that the prime minister was personally responsible for what happened to the scientist.
Blair's political fate now lies in the hands of Lord Hutton who is chairing the inquiry. He will write a report outlining his findings and if he is critical of the prime minister, Blair may have to resign. Originally Lord Hutton had stated his intention to publish his report by December. However, after hearing Sir Kevin's evidence, he said that it might not be ready until early 2004. This delay is perhaps Lord Hutton acknowledging the fact that his findings may have massive political implications on the domestic as well as the international stage. Should Blair lose power, the shockwaves would damage President George W. Bush in an election year and could also harm the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi.
Blair chaired meeting that led to unmasking of Kelly, inquiry told
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, 14 October 2003
Blair 'chaired talks on Kelly naming strategy'
Michael Evans, The Times, 14 October 2003
Blair chaired the meeting that led to Kelly naming plan
Kim Sengupta, The Independent, 14 October 2003
Blair ran meeting that 'helped identify Kelly'
Andrew Sparrow, The Telegraph, 14 October 2003
Confident Koizumi Outshines Browbeaten Blair
J. Sean Curtin, Asia Times, 23 July 2003
Blair in heart scare
The Telegraph, 20 October 2003
Blair's Political Future Looking Dark as Koizumi's Shines
J. Sean Curtin, Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 16 September 2003
No palace parade for Bush as Blair gets cold feet
By Tim Walker, The Telegraph, 19 October 2003