LONDON, May 2: British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s opinion poll lead was barely dented on Monday, putting him firmly on track to win Thursday’s election despite accusations from the opposition he deceived Britons on Iraq. In the final days of campaigning, Mr Blair — seeking a third successive term — is expected to target the Labour Party’s most vulnerable seats. Party officials are concerned that anger over his support for the Iraq invasion could slash his huge parliamentary majority.
The prime minister is expected to team up with finance minister Gordon Brown this week in an effort to try to shift the attention of voters onto Labour’s preferred battleground, the economy, which has been buoyant since he came to power in 1997.
But the death of a British soldier in Iraq on Monday — the 83rd since the start of the invasion — ensured Iraq remained an issue at Mr Blair’s morning news conference.
“It underlines once again the extraordinary work and sacrifice that British armed forces are making in Iraq, to help Iraq become a stable and democratic country that’s no longer a threat to its region and the world,” Mr Blair said.
“We should be immensely grateful for the work they do.”
A YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph newspaper put Labour on 36 per cent, the Conservatives on 33 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 24 per cent. The poll was conducted between April 29 and May 1.
The figures suggest Mr Blair is on course to win the election but with a substantially reduced parliamentary majority from his current 161 seats.
Polls in the past few days have shown Labour with leads of three to eight percentage points over the Conservatives.
BLAIR REJECTS REPORT: On Sunday, Mr Blair rejected a report he struck a pact with US President George Bush on Iraq eight months before the invasion, though he said his government had discussed possible ways to topple Saddam Hussein in July 2002.
Polls show Iraq is not high among voters’ priorities, but there has been persistent controversy over the invasion, and Mr Blair’s foes have called him a liar and questioned his trustworthiness.
Mr Blair hit back after his rivals seized on a leaked memo of a government meeting in July 2002 published in the Sunday Times.
He said talks on ‘regime change’ took place, but added: “The idea we’d decided definitively for military action at that stage is wrong and disproved by the fact that several months later we went back to the United Nations to get a final resolution.” —Reuters