Britain’s weekend papers were full of rumblings about splits and schisms in the ruling Labor Party if Prime Minister Tony Blair continues to march in lock step with the Bush administration on Iraq. The conservative Sunday Telegraph warned of threats of “mass defections from party activists” and rebellion by Labor members of Parliament unless Blair could “sell” his Iraq strategy more effectively. On Monday, Blair used his monthly televised press conference to do just that, and the reviews were generally positive.
The Sun, Britain’s top-selling paper, said Blair’s “tough line” struck “exactly the right tone.” The editorial applauded the prime minister for speaking unpopular truths and concluded, “Facing up to Saddam won’t be pleasant—but doing nothing would be much worse.” (The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch, was traditionally a right-wing tabloid, but during the current Labor administration it has become one of Blair’s most faithful supporters. A column in Tuesday’s Guardian predicted that Rebekah Wade, named as the Sun’s new editor Monday, will “turn her back on Blair and take the Sun into opposition.”)
The Times praised the prime minister for “presenting the impression of a coherent and credible policy.” The paper urged Blair to release as much information as possible about the “murky trade that exists in biological and chemical components” so that Britons will understand the “direct threat Saddam and his activities constitute … to British national security.”
The Daily Telegraph also gave Blair a thumbs-up, declaring him “at his best” as he set out the case for action against Saddam Hussein. In facing down “his own party, a majority of newspapers, the Churches and the Liberal Democrats,” he “is exhibiting true leadership, seeking to convince his opponents rather than compromise with them.” The editorial praised the tactical deftness of Blair’s comment that if the United States had been unwilling to threaten force, he would have urged them to get tough. “British attitudes towards the war have more to do with what people think of George W Bush than with what they think of Saddam Hussein,” it claimed. “In order to convince the doubters, especially those on the Left, Mr Blair needs to factor out the American connection and focus on the question of why it is in Britain’s own interest to act.”
An op-ed in the Guardian said that Blair is right to worry about the threat of a terrorist attack on Britain and right about Iraq, but “he is wrong—dangerously wrong—about the US under this administration.” It concluded, “[Liberal-Democrat leader] Charles Kennedy was right to warn last week that the British national interest may require Blair to say no over a US attack on Iraq without UN authorisation. But Kennedy is too cautious. The whole of the US’s Iraq policy is conceived in a more aggressive framework. It is Blair’s unwillingness to see or say this which means he still has not won the argument at home.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror interpreted Blair’s press conference as a declaration of war. Columnist Paul Routledge declared, “Tony Blair will drag my country—your country—into any war that Mad Dog President Bush decides is OK for American oil and geopolitical dominance.”