OPINION: Blair faces an uphill struggle over war on Iraq

I don't think that anyone is in any doubt that Blair and Bush have already decided to go to war with Iraq. Politicians would normally keep such controversial decisions and, in Blair's case a very unpopular decision, to themselves. They would then get their PR people to soften up public opinion.

The amazing thing about this war plan is that they are doing things in reverse.

I couldn't believe how Blair and his chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell did virtually nothing for weeks except telling us what a nasty chap Saddam Hussein was. The problem is we already know that and if we went to war with every country that had a vicious dictator running the place we would be permanently engaged in conflicts.

Blair and his media manipulators now have an uphill struggle not helped by the fact that they seem to have put a huge amount of effort into the so-called dossier on Saddam's war arsenal.

As PRWeek said last week, expectations are now so high on its contents that unless they release photos of nuclear missile sites as the Americans did of Cuba in the 1960s the opponents of war will have a field day.

Doing things in reverse has made it unnecessarily difficult for Blair to sell the idea of war to a sceptical public. The weekend's revelation in The Sunday Telegraph, no doubt straight from a Number 10 briefing, that Saddam was directly supporting al-Qu'eda is the sort of story you would expect to see long before any war decision had been made. A few well placed leaks about Saddam having nuclear weapons may have been believed before but now such stories are just seen as an invented excuse for a war.

All this has not just led to public opinion being against war with Iraq but has united virtually all the Labour Party against Blair. I honestly did not meet one delegate at the TUC last week who thought Blair was right, which is why his speech was listened to in almost total silence.

It was obvious that unless the UN became directly involved then war with Iraq would not only split the Labour Cabinet and Party but also see Blair's poll ratings take a dive. Number 10 now takes credit for persuading Bush to go down this road, though given that he has made it clear he doesn't give a stuff about the UN, it's more likely just to give the US more time for war preparations.

George Bush doesn't need to worry as much as Blair about public opinion because his ratings are so high. This is something we Brits find difficult to understand, just as we did when Reagan was running the show. We laugh at his use of language but forget that the Americans don't actually speak English and actually love his use of words. And what PR person didn't marvel at the backdrop to Bush's speech? The lit-up statue of liberty and a US flag.

There will probably be just enough evidence in the soon-to-be-published dossier for Blair to start winning the PR war and, given the almost complete lack of a serious opposition, Blair should get an easy ride in the commons next week. The Labour opposition in Parliament simply isn't serious enough and so I expect Blair to win back much lost ground.

The PM may have taken a very different attitude if there was a general election around the corner. Just take a look at Germany where Gerhard Schroder has pulled back in the polls to lead the election race because of his opposition to war with Iraq. I can't wait for one of the quickest U-turns in history if he wins - and sucking up to Blair and Bush take precedence over public opinion.

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