EDITORIAL: Blair is treading a fine line over Iraq

Developments this week in the propaganda battle surrounding war in Iraq demonstrate a Prime Minister caught between two rival fears. On the one hand, the UK has the most opinion poll-obsessed leader in history; the central role new Labour has given to Philip Gould over the years is evidence enough of that. But on the other, he is in awe of a gung-ho US administration and projects a sincere feeling of responsibility to stop Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction.

If it was only in the eyes of Labour backbenchers and trade unionists that Blair's reputation had nose-dived over the Iraq issue, he would doubtless consider that a price worth paying. But it is not. There is a clear public consensus that we should only send troops into battle once the argument in favour has been won. That is not yet the case.

The Government is destined to lose the PR battle for public support unless it makes public a convincing dossier of supposedly damning data on Iraq. It was that recognition that appeared to lead Blair to make clear in this week's press conference that the dossier would be in the public domain within weeks.

And yet in two respects this was a flawed strategy. First, as an exercise in expectation management, it raised high hopes for material which can now only disappoint. And second, if the dossier can be published within weeks, why can it not be published now? Either they have the information on which to base the conviction that Saddam must go, or they do not. Downing Street's tactics are only encouraging the sort of rabid press speculation that is in no-one's interest.

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