British Premier Tony Blair faces one of the toughest weeks of his career: First he could suffer a defeat in parliament Tuesday, followed by the Wednesday release of a report on the death of an expert on Iraq’s weapons.
He's got a lot on his plate right now.
Few believe the British leader will soon be out of office, but Blair’s challenges during what has been dubbed his "week from hell" are serious nonetheless. Despite the overwhelming majority in parliament of his Labour Party, Tuesday’s vote on a proposal to increase university tuition fees is still too close to call.
The controversial bill will fail if all opposition members and 81 Labour parliamentarians vote against it – 155 Labour legislators have already signed a motion opposing the fee hike. Should the proposal fail, a confidence vote on Blair's leadership might follow.
Even before the vote, Blair is scheduled to receive an advance copy of a report that also poses a potential threat to his premiership: the so-called Hutton Inquiry into the government’s involvement in the suicide of U.K. scientist David Kelly (photo.)
A Defense Ministry employee, the expert on Iraq’s weapons slit his wrists after he was named as a source for news reports claiming that the government had knowingly used false information on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
Government struggles to justify Iraq war
Regardless of the reports’ findings, the British government on Monday tried to justify their support of the war in Iraq after chief U.S. arms hunter David Kay said he did not believe that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had access to biological or chemical weapons. Kay quit his job last week.
In a BBC interview, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw expressed his disappointment in the failure to find weapons until now but added that the search will continue. “A great deal more evidence will emerge,” he said.
Blair biography talks of tensions with Chirac
The publication of a new Blair biography on Monday created yet another area needing damage control for the Blair. According to the book’s author, Blair thought French President Jacques Chirac was “out to get him” during the lead-up to the war, which was opposed by France.
Chirac, left, and Blair at a London press conference last November.
“I’m convinced he believed the conflict with Chirac had expanded beyond Iraq to become a contest for the political leadership of Europe,” Financial Times political columnist Philip Stephens told Reuters news agency. In his book, Stephens writes Blair based his fears partly on reports from British intelligence about Chirac’s private conversations.
In recent months, however, the two leaders have appeared to get closer again. A series of tri-lateral summits including German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder also seems to indicate the three countries’ desire to serve as the motor of European unity. The trio’s next meeting to prepare an EU summit in March is scheduled to take place in Berlin on Feb. 18.