Tony Blair and Labour will suffer a potentially catastrophic loss of support
if Britain joins American military action against Iraq, a poll commissioned by
The Telegraph says today.
More than two-thirds of British voters believe that a potential
attack on Saddam Hussein is not justified in present circumstances, according
to the internet pollster YouGov.
The survey shows that Labour voters would reconsider their support
for the Government if Mr Blair sent troops into action against Iraq.
It found widespread unease about President George Bush's ability
to handle the crisis. More than half feared that Mr Blair was becoming Mr Bush's
Saddam Hussein urged Mr Blair yesterday to distance himself from
America and adopt a more "independent" approach towards Iraq.
"We will never surrender," the dictator said.
The YouGov findings seem to confirm private surveys carried out
for Mr Blair - and denied by No 10 - suggesting that he would have to pay a heavy
price at the ballot box if he took Britain into war. Downing Street insisted last
week: "The Prime Minister is not wobbling."
More than a third of Labour supporters lack confidence in Mr
Blair's ability to handle the crisis and say they would lose sympathy with the
Government if America launched a military strike against Saddam with British support.
The findings coincide with a warning from Maurice Fitzpatrick,
the head of economics at Tenon, the professional services group, that the consequences
of military action could dent the prospects for economic growth.
He said: "If growth over the next four years were to be less
than the Chancellor's forecast by just half of one per cent because of a war,
the impact would leave a £12 billion black hole in the annual accounts by
2006. This worry must be pressing in on Gordon Brown."
The YouGov poll found that three-quarters of respondents believed
that Saddam was a threat to world peace.
But there was widespread doubt about whether American action
to topple him would succeed: only 13 per cent thought it would; three times as
many thought the chances were "poor".
Sixty-two per cent of respondents thought that military action
could result in a wider war in the Middle East and 90 per cent feared Islamic
terrorist retaliation against the West.
A majority of Britons do not trust President Bush's judgment,
the survey shows.
Two-thirds of those interviewed said they had "not much confidence"
(40 per cent) or "no confidence at all" (28 per cent) in Mr Bush's capacity to
handle the crisis wisely. Only five per cent had "a great deal of confidence".
Mr Blair fared slightly better. More than 40 per cent said they
had "a great deal" or "a fair amount" of confidence in his ability to deal with
Iraq. But more than 50 per cent had either "not much confidence" or "none at all".
Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman,
said: "A prime minister who goes to war without the knowledge that he has the
security of public opinion behind him is taking a very substantial risk."
Mr Blair faced a renewed Labour call for conciliatory gestures
George Galloway, the Left-wing MP with close ties to Baghdad,
said that if Britain were prepared to restore relations with Col Gaddafi in Libya
despite his links with the IRA, the murder of Wpc Yvonne Fletcher and the Lockerbie
bombing, it should be willing to hold talks with Saddam about allowing weapons
inspectors into Iraq.
Referring to last week's visit to Libya by Mike O'Brien, the
Foreign Office minister, he said: "If it is good enough for a British minister
to kiss Gaddafi, surely we can pick up the olive branch and test the sincerity
of Iraq's offer?"
A spokesman for Mr Blair said: "The point about Saddam Hussein
is that we are seeking to resolve all this through the United Nations. But how
many Security Council resolutions has he failed to implement or broken - 20 out
"It is a serious problem. We need to tackle the issue of weapons
of mass destruction. He needs to let the weapons inspectors in."
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