'Staunch support for Israel'was factor in Blair's demise

Foreign secretary Jack Straw tells BBC Blair's backing of US in Iraq, Israel, led to mounting protests against his leadership.

Blair 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Blair 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's "staunch support for Israel" during last summer's war contributed to the internal Labor rebellion that forced Blair to announce last September that he would be stepping down within the year, according to the former British foreign secretary Jack Straw. Asked in a BBC documentary screened on Tuesday night in the UK whether Blair's position on the war - the British prime minister resisted pressure from within his own party to demand an immediate cease-fire - had been a factor in the mounting protests at his leadership, Straw said yes. Many Labor figures were already bitterly critical of Blair's handling of the war in Iraq, and his perceived too-close relationship to US President George Bush, but the prime minister's line on the Lebanon War proved another major factor. Asked whether Blair's "staunch support for Israel over Lebanon" had fuelled the internal rebellion, Straw replied: "Yes, it did. It's a matter of historical record that it did. It triggered things." A group of junior Labor ministers resigned at the time and demanded that Blair step down. Reluctantly, the British prime minister agreed to do so within 12 months. Straw went on to say in the documentary that the prime minister "thought people had gone mad." But Blair concluded that, "if people really want me to go, I'm not going to ... cling on, put my fingernails in the frame." 10 Downing Street had no immediate comment on the documentary, the final installment of a three-part series, Blair: The Inside Story. Meanwhile Tuesday, an inquiry into allegations that Blair's government traded political honors for cash intensified as the British media reported a senior Blair aide had expressed concerns the leader's chief fundraiser had attempted to influence her evidence to police. Officers have examined the alleged illicit sale of honors - including seats in the House of Lords and knighthoods - for around a year, but recently broadened their inquiry to examine allegations of an attempted cover-up. The scandal has dogged Blair's final months in office and has threatened to overshadow his hope of brokering a new global deal on carbon emissions reduction before he steps down as British leader by September. Senior Blair aide Ruth Turner, Blair's chief fundraiser Lord Levy and two others have been arrested during the police inquiry. After the investigation began, Turner wrote a document expressing concern that Levy had put to her a version of events about the case she believed to be incorrect, the BBC reported Tuesday. Turner had suggested Blair should be informed of her worries, the BBC reported. Asked to comment on the reports, Blair told a Downing Street news conference that he had "absolutely nothing whatever to say on this issue." The BBC was allowed to report the claim after Britain's High Court lifted an injunction imposed Friday banning publication of the details of the document. Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported that Levy - Blair's tennis partner, Middle East envoy and fundraiser - had attempted to influence Turner's evidence to the police inquiry. The fundraiser had held a conversation with the prime minister's aide before she was questioned by investigators, the newspaper reported. The story was published after Britain's attorney-general failed to win a court injunction late Monday to ban reporting of the claims. Levy denounced the report and others as "prejudiced and distorted." The "current round of articles in the media... are partial, contradictory, confused and inaccurate," said a statement issued Tuesday by Levy's lawyer, Neil O'May, who said Levy was being subjected to a "media-style trial." Blair has been questioned twice by police officers - but not under formal caution, meaning it is unlikely he is suspected of committing a crime.