Thu, Nov 04, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US Election: Blair wants Kerry in White House, he says

PRIVATE POSITION Although UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has been even-handed in public about who he supports, friends and staff say he says he prefers Kerry to win

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The British prime minister Tony Blair has been telling friends, and staff in his London office in Downing Street, in confidence over the last few months that he would prefer John Kerry in the White House.

Blair's public position has been one of scrupulous even-handedness, offering no suggestion of support for either Kerry or US President George W. Bush. Newspapers have offered conflicting accounts of his preferred candidacy.

Blair was planning to make a statement on the presidency early yesterday or, at the very latest, at noon, at prime minister's question time in the House of Commons in London.

Downing Street yesterday held to the official line: "We have stood this ground very firmly and can't change it for the final mile."

But in private Blair has let it be known life would be easier for him under a Kerry administration. His thinking is in line with his wife Cherie's, who during Bush's visit to Britain last November referred to him as "that man" who had caused so much trouble for her husband.

Blair's thinking operates on three levels: What is best for the British government, what is best for the Labour party and what is best for him personally.

The answer to the first is that Blair believes that Britain has to remain close to the sole superpower if it is to have influence in world affairs, regardless of whether Bush or Kerry is president.

On the question of what is best for Labour, the answer is Kerry, not least because it would offer Blair an opportunity to try to heal internal disputes over Iraq.

There is a further reason why Labour would benefit. Blair's theory, which he has held since the beginning of the 1990s, is that a Democratic administration creates a political climate that helps leftwing and liberal parties round the world, and this would include Labour at the next election.

The answer to what suits Blair personally is more complex. As a social democrat, he would naturally favor Kerry, as do almost all senior staff at Downing Street and the UK Foreign Office.

One sceptic, a Labour insider, argued yesterday that Blair's apparent shift to Kerry was strategic, aimed at letting Labour supporters think he supported Kerry. The Labour insider argued that Kerry had an interest in raking over the run-up to the war in Iraq and that Blair would suffer from such an inquest.

According to one UK Foreign Office official, a Kerry administration would "change the atmospherics," meaning there would be a more consensual approach to problems such as Iraq, Israel-Palestine and Iran.

For more than two years, Downing Street and the Foreign Office have expressed frustration with Bush over his failure to engage seriously with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some Downing Street staff and Labour officials have been cultivating Democratic contacts, either attending the Democratic convention or working with the campaign team.

Downing Street has opened its doors to Democrat visitors.

The Democrats have not been wooed with the same vigor that the then British ambassador, Sir Christopher Meyer, applied to the Bush team in 2000.

Sir David Manning, who is close to the the US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, has been working at establishing ties with the Kerry team but he has not pursued the Democrats with the same enthusiasm.

The Kerry team has been much more positively vocal about the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, than about Blair. During a Blair visit to the US, the official line from Downing Street and the Kerry team was that no convenient time could be found for a meeting.

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