Blair insists his desire for power is undiminished
By Paul Waugh Deputy Political Editor31 July 2003
A defiant Tony Blair insisted yesterday that his appetite for power was "undiminished" despite losing the public's trust over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
In his last press conference before his summer holiday, the Prime Minister dropped strong hints that the Iraq Survey Group of weapons inspectors had already found some evidence to back his case for war.
However, Mr Blair consistently refused to be drawn on detailed questions about the death of David Kelly, the weapons expert at the centre of the row over the Government's assessment of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The voters would ultimately judge Labour not on the controversy over Iraq but on its record on public services such as health, education, crime and transport, he said.
With his administration about to set a record for Labour when it overtakes the six-year tenure of Clement Attlee's government this weekend, Mr Blair said that he had overseen "real and sustainable" improvements in services that compared with any previous prime minister.
But he conceded for the first time that public trust in his own abilities had been undermined by the row over the threat posed by Iraq. When questioned specifically about trust, he said: "There is an issue that we have to confront. People need to know that what we did in Iraq was right and justified.
"That's a case we have to not just assert, but prove over time, both in relation to weapons of mass destruction and in relation to the improvement of Iraq. I think for a lot of people they will make up their minds on the basis of the evidence."
The Prime Minister insisted he was confident that such evidence would by produced by the Iraq Survey Group, a body of inspectors led by American and British personnel.
The group might take months to produce a final report, but Mr Blair gave his clearest hint yet that it had already unearthed valuable evidence that programmes for WMD had been active. "There are interviews being continued now with the experts and scientists working on the programmes. I'm not going to say anything about the content of those things, but I simply say to people I think it is a good idea to wait until that group is in a position to report," he said.
His original justification for the war, namely the threat posed by Saddam, the nature of his regime and the "potential link" to terrorism, remained "true and correct", he said.
When questioned about his own political future, Mr Blair suggested that he intended to stand at the next general election and to serve a full third term if he won. "There is a big job of work still to do and my appetite for doing it is undiminished but who the country elects is ultimately a matter for the country," he said.
Although he repeatedly dodged questions on the Dr Kelly affair by saying it should be left up to Lord Hutton's inquiry, Mr Blair said the controversy offered a chance for both the media and politicians to look again at their conduct.
He also sought to downplay Alastair Campbell's assault on the BBC over the claims by the reporter Andrew Gilligan that Downing Street "sexed up" an intelligence dossier. "All we ever wanted was an incorrect story corrected," he said.
However, both Labour and Tory critics attacked the Prime Minister's evasive answers. Glenda Jackson, Labour MP and former minister, insisted Mr Blair's remarks about the Iraq Survey Group were an attempt to soften up the public for evidence not of weapons but of weapons programmes. She said: "They are now saying we may not find the weapons of mass destruction ... but we will find evidence that programmes were in place." Liam Fox, the shadow Health Secretary, said: "He hid behind Lord Hutton's inquiry and failed to allow scrutiny of the Government's handling of the run-up to war in Iraq."
* David Kelly will be buried next Wednesday in a private Anglican ceremony incorporating prayers from his pacifist Bahai faith. The service will be held at St Mary's Church in Longworth, Oxfordshire, near his home in Southmoor.
Have you examined your conscience as Dr Kelly's widow asked people around him to, and do you find it in any way wanting?
Blair: I think it is important that all of us, once the inquiry reports, learn the lessons of that, but let us wait and allow the inquiry to report.
Will there come a point if weapons of mass destruction aren't found, where you would feel you would have to resign?
Let us wait and see, when [the Iraq Survey Group] come up with their report, what the true facts are.
Do you think you are closer to catching or to killing [Saddam Hussein]?
The honest truth is that I know what you know, which is that the two sons have been killed, the bodyguards have been captured and are being interrogated. Does that make it more likely that we can get Saddam? Yes I suppose it does.
Would you prefer Saddam to be captured or killed?
The most important thing is that he ceases to be an obstacle to progress in Iraq. Why are you are prepared to have an inquiry for David Kelly, but not for [the British soldiers] who died in the war in Iraq?
The justification [for the war] remains as I have stated it, and I believe that that justification, which is about the threat that Saddam posed ... is true and is correct.
©Copyright 2003, Independent (UK)
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