MEDIA WATCH: Press links Blair's future directly to decision on war with Iraq

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been a steadfast partner of the US in the war on terror, but as debate reaches a fever pitch about whether or not to attack Iraq, our most important ally in the coalition of the willing is facing increasing domestic resistance that could jeopardize the political and military support that Blair can muster.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been a steadfast partner of the US in the war on terror, but as debate reaches a fever pitch about whether or not to attack Iraq, our most important ally in the coalition of the willing is facing increasing domestic resistance that could jeopardize the political and military support that Blair can muster.

Early March was an especially rough time for Blair as the debate focused on whether or not a second United Nations resolution against Saddam would earn nine votes in the Security Council. As PRWeek went to press, diplomatic efforts were coming to an end. Looking back, The New York Times (March 12) ran a front-page story that labeled the prospect of an Iraqi war "by far the worst crisis for Mr. Blair since he took office in 1997. In essence, the Prime Minister is fighting a two-front campaign, one at the Security Council, and the other at home." Recent US media coverage of Blair's predicament has focused on the majority of the British public being unconvinced of the need to go to war without a second UN resolution, a fact that is putting Blair under tremendous pressure. Coverage cited public opinion polls that indicated that support for a war without the second resolution only ranged from 10% to 19% of the population. A BBC correspondent told NBC's Chris Matthews (March 9), the low level of support "is a stunning fall in numbers" for the once widely popular Blair. US coverage has also highlighted that not only is Blair facing an uphill struggle to win public approval, his own Labour Party is offering him little support. In early March, 121 Labour MPs voted that Blair has yet to prove the case for war against Iraq. A Labour MP explained in an LA Times op-ed (March 7), "The message was this: 'Parliament and the British people wish to get off the automatic escalator to war set in motion by Bush.'" Coverage has indicated that Blair is even facing disintegrating unity within his own cabinet. When Blair's International Development Secretary Clare Short publicly threatened to resign if war is pursued without a UN mandate (parliamentary leader Robin Cook stepped down last Monday), the LA Times (March 12) wrote that Blair's "failure to retaliate by dumping [the Secretary] has been interpreted as a sign of weakness." Numerous media reports have gone so far as to say that Blair's career hinges on the outcome of the Iraq situation. A UK political observer noted, "It's easy for people to come out and make too much of a political problem, but the fact is he's in a terrible state. His very political future is in doubt" (The Baltimore Sun, March 11). There was speculation that he could survive if the war is quick, successful, and relatively bloodless. But in any other scenario, most predicted a vote of no confidence and the end of Blair's tenure. The cumulative effect of the media's coverage of Blair earlier this month has been to highlight the increasing opposition he is facing from his cabinet, Parliament, and the public. Even in the face of such considerable domestic opposition, Blair's support for the US has been unswerving, but Americans need to know that Blair is taking a tremendous gamble in standing side by side with the US.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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