Where Was Tony Blair?

Tony Blair George Bush July 2003
Here in Britain, I present a daily radio programme on our main news network. On Tuesday we carried President Bush's big speech live from the United Nations.

Now, I have a small screen in the studio which shows text messages sent in by listeners who want to pass comment on what they hear, and the impact of President Bush's words was electric. 'Hypocrite' …. 'get him off' …. 'warmonger'… 'zzzzz' … 'I'm going to sleep' … and most worrying of all… 'don't you guys worry about ratings any more'? I appealed for some more positive reaction.

And then some listeners grudgingly admitted that it WAS important to hear his words - but only because their attacks on him could be better informed.

Only later came more positive comments, that American action in Iraq was correct, that President Bush's speech had been the truth. But there is no doubt that the instinctive reaction of many of our British listeners to George W Bush was one of hostility.

I have a feeling that this is based not so much on what he says as the way he says it. It rather reminds me of reaction in Scotland to Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister. They hated her. It wasn't her policies so much. It was more that she seemed to represent everything that was Middle England. President Bush can afford to ignore the reactions of the British population. One of the nice things about being in his position is that he can ignore almost everyone, including the French and the Germans and the UN. But he cannot ignore his own voters.

And it was interesting that, while President Bush was speaking, his old buddy and most loyal ally, Tony Blair, was not at his side in New York - he was at a new hospital in south London. This was odd.

Commentators here say it illustrates that Mr. Blair has concluded that Iraq is a vote loser, that domestic issues are more important, and that the time has come to put a bit of space between himself and President Bush. Well I guess the American President is strong enough to soldier on.

But, abroad, his enemies are gathering. And the problem for Mr. Bush is that it's going to be difficult to persuade his voters at home that he has got it right in Iraq, when in the world he looks so isolated.

By Peter Allen