Blair’s popularity hits all time low
Christopher Adams, Political Correspondent
Published: July 30 2006 21:11 | Last updated: July 30 2006 21:11
Public support for Tony Blair, British prime minister, has plunged to its lowest since he became premier, according to a new poll that shows growing disapproval over how he has handled the Middle East crisis.
The survey by Ipsos MORI, carried out this month as the US and Britain blocked international calls for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon, found Mr Blair’s personal popularity at an all-time low.
The prime minister, who is facing unease in the British cabinet over his closeness to George W. Bush, appears to have lost more public support for his backing of the US president’s strategy than he did over Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war three years ago.
The survey findings, which one senior British minister on Sunday gloomily conceded were “unsurprising”, could stoke calls within the Labour party for Mr Blair to use September’s party conference to announce a timetable for his departure.
Ipsos MORI found 67 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with the way Mr Blair was doing his job, while only 23 per cent were satisfied.
The negative balance of 44 was his lowest recorded rating and sharply down on June.
Among Labour supporters, fewer than half said they were satisfied with the prime minister.
Further evidence of dissent in Mr Blair’s cabinet over his handling of the crisis emerged at the weekend when Jack Straw, former foreign secretary, reflected the concern of several ministers by describing Israel’s bombing of Lebanon as “disproportionate”.
Some senior colleagues and a large number of Mr Blair’s Labour party MPs want the prime minister to break ranks with Mr Bush and demand an immediate halt to the fighting.
One British cabinet minster told the Financial Times that there was unhappiness at the apparent failure to stop the “wanton destruction” in Lebanon.
Mr Straw, leader of the House of Commons, warned that a continuation of Israeli military action in Lebanon “could further destabilise the already fragile Lebanese nation”.
Mr Blair defended his stance and denied reports of cabinet divisions.
He said a ceasefire could be achieved within days if the international community acted with urgency. Downing Street neither endorsed nor criticised Mr Straw’s remarks.
The survey showed support for Labour among people certain to vote in a general election dipped from June’s 33 per cent to 32 per cent, while the main opposition Conservative party remained steady at 36 per cent.
The opposition Liberal Democrats, whose leader Sir Menzies Campbell has called for an immediate halt to fighting, saw its rating rise from 21 to 24 per cent.
As during the Iraq war, the importance of foreign affairs and defence has risen in voters’ minds. Thirty-six per cent identified this issue as among the most important facing Britain, placing it ahead of health and just behind immigration and crime in first and second place.
Despite the unhappiness with Mr Blair, the survey findings also make disappointing reading for David Cameron, Conservative leader.
Far from benefiting from the prime minster’s diminishing popularity, Mr Cameron’s approval ratings have fallen, the first real evidence that his honeymoon as party leader is over. For the first time, more people are dissatisfied than satisfied with his performance.
MORI polled 2019 British adults between 20 and 24 July.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006