After Hutton, the verdict: 51 per cent say Blair should go

By Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor

07 February 2004


Tony Blair's loss of public trust after the war on Iraq and the Hutton report is underlined today by a poll for The Independent showing more than half of voters want him to resign.

The NOP poll, conducted this week, shows that 51 per cent want the Prime Minister to quit and 54 per cent believe he lied to the nation over the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

It also shows the Tories are ahead of Labour in popularity. The Conservatives are on 36 per cent, with Labour on 35 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 24 per cent.

But when those polled were asked how they would vote if Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, was leader, Labour regained the lead. The Conservatives would be on 36 per cent, Labour 37 and the Liberal Democrats 22.

The poll concludes a terrible week for the Prime Minister in which the Tories called for his resignation and Brian Jones, a former MoD intelligence expert, widened his criticism of the Government's dossier on Iraq.

When asked what they thought of the statement: "It is now time for Tony Blair to resign and hand over to someone else", 51 per cent said they agreed or strongly agreed - 35 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

The depth of public disillusion with Mr Blair is highlighted in another finding. When asked about the new inquiry into the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, some 68 per cent believe it will be a "whitewash", while just 23 per cent believe it will be a "genuine attempt to find the truth".

When asked "Given what you know now, do you think Tony Blair lied to the nation over the threat posed by Iraq?" 54 per cent responded "yes" and 31 per cent said "no". The rest were undecided.

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, renewed his call yesterday for Mr Blair to step aside over his admission that he did not know the exact nature of Saddam's weapons threat before the war. Mr Blair told MPs on Wednesday he had not known the claim that Iraq had chemical weapons ready to fire within 45 minutes referred to battlefield rather than long-range munitions.

The Government's dossier stated that "intelligence indicates that the Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so". Press reports at the time which suggested the claim involved ballistic missiles capable of striking British interests in Cyprus went uncorrected by the Government. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, and the former foreign secretary Robin Cook added to the pressure on Mr Blair when they revealed they had been told the weapons were short-range mortars.

In contrast to Mr Blair's fortunes, Mr Howard's positive poll ratings continued. Forty-seven per cent of those asked felt that he had done a very good or fairly good job since becoming leader in November, compared with 15 per cent rating him very bad or fairly bad.

Mr Howard said it was clear that Mr Blair had to resign over his admission about the 45-minute claim. "I've been a member of a cabinet that took the country to war. I remember the kind of questions John Major used to ask and we all used to ask, and it's just absolutely extraordinary that the Prime Minister took this gravest of all decisions without bothering to ask that simple question."

Lord King, a former defence secretary and a past chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said Mr Blair's admission was "quite extraordinary". He said: "The Prime Minister made a point in the dossier ... he said it is not possible to share intelligence with the whole country for obvious reasons and, therefore, as Prime Minister he had made it his duty, along with his colleagues, to be briefed in detail, so that they could set out the facts in that dossier," he told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

NOP interviewed 1,003 people by telephone between 4 February and 5 February. Results were weighted to be representative of the population.