How’s Blair going to deal with his dissenters?

How’s Blair going to deal with his dissenters?

    Will there be Flight-style sackings of the 17 who’ve signed the anti- Iraq ticket?

With the Tory leader, Michael Howard, under pressure for being too tough over Howard Flight’s comments on tax how is Tony Blair going to deal with dissent within his own party by a group MPs who have signed up to making the Iraq war a key “issue of trust” at the general election.

According to the Independent this morning 17 of them have signed a declaration saying: “I was and remain totally opposed to the war on Iraq. If elected as your parliamentary representative in the forthcoming general election, I will do everything in my power to bring the occupation of Iraq to an end.”. They plan to include this statement in their election leaflets.

The chairman of Labour Against the War and MP for Nottingham South, Alan Simpson, is quoted as saying: “The war and the leader are the biggest factors on the doorstep. Those MPs who opposed the war would be daft not to make that clear to their constituents. It’s the biggest single issue driving Labour supporters into another camp – either the war itself or the question of trust. ..At parliamentary by-elections, the party has pursued the Basil Fawlty line. The basic instruction is, whatever you do, ‘don’t mention the war’. But it’s the issue that gets thrown back at Labour candidates on the doorstep.”

This could give Tony Blair the chance to contrast his approach to dissent within his party with what many are saying was Michael Howard’s “over the top” move to de-select Howard Flight. The problem is that this would just keep Iraq on the agenda and this is not an area that Labour strategists want to dwell upon.

Some new polling research that’s just been put on the MORI website shows that the war might be a bigger issue with the “grey vote” compared with the electorate as a whole.

To the question Do you approve or disapprove of the way the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is handling the current situation with Iraq? the overall split was to disapprove by 63% to 28%. Amongst the 65-74 age group the split was 70% to 23%.

Just before the start of the Iraq War in March 2003 MORI showed that 30% of the public approved of Blair’s handling of Iraq, and 54% disapproved so opinion is hardening.

Meanwhile on the betting markets the Labour spreads have remained pretty stable on 351-356 seats with IG Index. But it’s moved down to 350 – 351 with Spreadfair so there has been some Labour selling.

Mike Smithson

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