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Iraq dogs Blair at conference

Blair with deputy PM John Prescott at the Labour conference.
Blair with deputy PM John Prescott at the Labour conference.

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BOURNEMOUTH, England -- Anti-war protesters are angry over a decision by British Prime Minster Tony Blair's ruling Labour Party not to discuss the Iraq war at this week's party conference.

Party managers defeated a motion to discuss the war in favor of domestic issues at the annual conference in Bournemouth.

The decision comes as a poll in Sunday's Observer newspaper showed 41 percent of Labour members interviewed want Blair to step down.

"With the world divided, the United Nations divided, our country divided and our party divided, it would be inexplicable if we did not have a debate on this crucially important issue,'' said Tony Woodley, head of the Transport and General Workers' Union. The unions are the party's main backers

Meanwhile, Britain's finance minister backed the Prime Minister over the war in Iraq. But Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown's calls for more labor market reforms were met with near silence. (Full story)

Many party faithful would like to see Brown succeed Blair. But the prime minister said Sunday he had no intention of resigning and will lead the Labour Party into the next general election, despite plummeting popularity ratings.

Blair admitted he had been "battered" by recent events.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times put Labour on just 30 percent -- three points behind the opposition Conservatives and neck-and-neck with the third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats, which saw a massive upsurge in support.

Blair is vowing not to back down over controversial public service reforms, despite Labour's popularity rating slumping to its lowest ebb under his leadership.

In an interview with The Observer, Blair said the intelligence picture he presented before the war was broadly correct.

"This wasn't an invention of British intelligence or the CIA. The intelligence that we got is essentially correct," he said.

"In my experience of intelligence, not every single item is correct but if there is a pattern as strong as the pattern here then it is (correct)."

And he told the BBC on Sunday: "What we have delivered in (Iraq) is freedom, and for all the difficulties, let's not ignore that but actually be proud of what we have done.

"I believe as powerfully as I did at the time that making sure that (Saddam Hussein) is no longer in charge of Iraq is a good thing for his country, the region and the world."

Blair acknowledged that the continuing controversy over Iraq and the fallout from the Hutton inquiry into the death of government weapons expert David Kelly has made it difficult to focus on domestic issues.

"I think it is a test, in a sense, for me and my leadership as to whether I can get back out and engage in a proper debate, so that these policies do not appear just to pop out of somewhere but are actually part of a process so that people understand why I am trying to do this," he said.


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