- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair’s administration suffered another blow yesterday when the widow of its main bioweapons expert blamed defense ministry officials along with lawmakers and the news media for the distress that drove her husband to suicide.

Yet Mr. Blair may take some comfort from a newly surfaced document in which former chief U.N. weapons inspector David Kelly wrote that a regime change in Iraq was the only way to end the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.

Testifying before Judge Brian Hutton’s inquiry into the suicide, Janice Kelly, 58, said her husband “said several times over coffee, over lunch, over afternoon tea, that he felt totally let down and betrayed.” When asked who had betrayed him, she said she “assumed” it was the ministry of defense.

The last time she saw him alive, she said, she thought he had “a broken heart.”

The clamor over Mr. Kelly’s death has been building into the biggest threat to Mr. Blair’s leadership since his Labor Party took office in 1997, exposing the prime minister to attack from the left wing of his own Labor Party as well as from a recovering Conservative Party.

“The prime minister knew about, and was satisfied with, the underhand treatment of Dr. Kelly and the systematic attempt to destroy his reputation both before and after his death,” said Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith.

In an appearance before Judge Hutton last week, Mr. Blair denied any attempt to mislead the public over the threat from Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction. But he did take responsibility for a much-maligned “guessing game” in which the media were given clues to the source of a leak by Mr. Kelly to the British Broadcasting Corp.

Unlike the ministers and their deputies, British career officials are typically low key, rarely speak on the record and serve all governments. Mr. Blair overrode advice from the top Defense Ministry civil servant that Mr. Kelly’s name should not be revealed.

As a result of the scandal, the Blair government has slipped into second place in the opinion polls, though only marginally.

His party was 2 percentage points behind the Conservatives in the latest poll, with 35 percent support, though it has gained a bit of ground against the much smaller Liberal Democrats.

More than half of those questioned in the YouGov poll, published in a national newspaper, said their opinion of politicians in general had gone down since the inquiry began.

The poll also underlined the basic weakness of the Conservatives, who lack a leader that the public sees as a serious alternative prime minister.

The poll shows 44 percent of Britons would be dismayed if Duncan Smith took charge of the country, compared with 16 percent who said they would be delighted.

Mr. Blair is still seen as the best choice for prime minister by 30 percent of those questioned, while 19 percent backed Mr. Smith and 18 percent gave their support to other candidates.

The level of mistrust remains central for the prime minister: Whereas in 1998, three-quarters of voters believed he could be trusted, the same is only true of 27 percent today.

Just more than one-fifth believe the government to be honest and trustworthy, compared with 56 percent at the time of the 2001 general election.

More damaging than any attack by Mr. Blair’s Conservative opponents is sniping by several of his Labor Party colleagues in Parliament.

Labor lawmaker Glenda Jackson, formerly one of the country’s best- known actresses, said the public now feels a “deep, deep mistrust” of the Labor administration. She predicted a low turnout of Labor voters in the next election if Mr. Blair continues to lead the party.

She also predicted that the failure to uncover any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq will lead to new calls from within the party for Mr. Blair’s resignation.

However, there are few obvious challengers for Mr. Blair’s job within his parliamentary faction. His top financial adviser, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, has been a long-standing rival but has little charisma.

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