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Blair's Dilemma At Home

This week Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair has embarked on a new round of consultations about war with Iraq. He’s talking to his own political party, to the faint-hearts in his Cabinet, and to the British public, too.

He’s treading a very delicate line. The opinion polls now show a sizeable majority of us against attacking Saddam Hussein unless we get a clear new message from the UN that it’s the only way of dealing with him.

Tony Blair hasn’t got cold feet. But the phrase we’ll hear repeatedly in the next few days runs along the cautious line of: “war isn’t inevitable at all”. That surely isn’t the same message that your massive build up of troops to the Persian Gulf conveys. So far we’ve dispatched an aircraft carrier and support ships, but the armoured divisions are still waiting for British orders to go. And, sooner rather than later, you may begin to wonder what’s happening, why your greatest ally in this venture seems to have gone soft.

It's true there are some softies in the British Cabinet – a tiny handful of Ministers who instinctively reject the concept of attack as the best form of defence. But even they would quietly acquiesce in a war if it could be absolutely demonstrated that right was on our side. That is part of this very British problem.

The UN weapons inspectors are still rightly suspicious of Saddam Hussein, but as yet they've found no foolproof evidence of his weapons of mass destruction. So Tony Blair’s ministers, some of them, need reassurance. Mr. Blair’s party may be harder to assuage. He leads a Labour party that may look quite conservative but is still left wing at its roots, and anti-war by inclination.

British Prime Ministers always have to tread warily before wars. They are answerable to their parties and to Parliament in a way that would make George Bush feel shackled and frustrated right now. But once they decide, they stick to it.

By Ed Boyle