Tuesday, January 21, 2003
Philip Gould is burying his head in his hands - 21st January 2003, 23.30

Blair is acting out of character. What is going on? When historians gain access to the records in 2033. they will have a tale to tell. Our Prime Minister, whose political actions are circumscribed by focus groups, is now acting in what he perceives as Britain's interest, even if the polls oppose him.

But while he predicated today that the British public would back a war against Iraq if there were no other means of disarming Saddam, that was not at all clear from new public opinion polls. An ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper showed that 81 percent would not support military action without a second resolution from the United Nations, and 47 percent of voters - 10 percent more than last October -- would not support a war at all. Only 30 percent would support such a conflict.

Labor voters oppose military action by 43 percent to 38 percent, and Conservative voters are also opposed, by 41 percent to 38 percent. Liberal Democrats, whose leader Charles Kennedy has emerged as a major anti-war critic, split 62 percent against and only 19 percent in favor of military action.

A second poll released Tuesday by the Mori Social Research Institute confirmed the trend, with 77 percent opposing military action without a second U.N. vote and 39 percent opposed even with U.N. support -- up 10 percent since September.

Perhaps more worryingly for Blair, almost two-thirds (62 percent) of those polled said they disapproved of the way he was handling the crisis -- compared to 47 percent in a similar Mori survey in October last year. A further 68 percent disapproved of Bush's performance on the issue, an increase of 9 percent over last September.

Blair is acting from conviction and, although one disagrees with his principles and his actions, one must respect his willingness to risk his political skin. Does he think that the increased influence derived from this battle outweighs the neglect of domestic issues and Europe? Perhaps our PM no longer sees the EU as the sole future for this country and plans to veto the constitution if it is not in our interests.

Who knows? A dangerous Blair. An unknown Blair. One who thinks for himself and ignores the public; we shall see the pros and cons.


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