Iraq war drives wedge through business leaders backing Labour

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The Independent Online

The invasion of Iraq has cost Tony Blair the support of some of Britain's most prominent businessmen, it emerged yesterday.

The invasion of Iraq has cost Tony Blair the support of some of Britain's most prominent businessmen, it emerged yesterday.

Sir Terence Conran, Tim Waterstone and David Potter, the chairman of Psion, all refused to sign a round robin letter in yesterday's Financial Times backing Labour because of their opposition to the Iraq war.

Mr Waterstone, founder of the Waterstone's chain of bookshops and a lifelong Labour supporter, said he had been so shocked and angered by the invasion that he had not yet decided which way to vote next week.

Mr Potter, who founded the hand-held computer business Psion in 1980 and still chairs the company, said trust in the Prime Minister and the judgement of the Cabinet had been undermined by Labour's policy over Iraq.

The three men were among 58 top executives who signed a letter endorsing Labour before both the 1997 and 2001 elections. However, they refused this time to put their names to a similar letter with a total of 63 signatures extolling Labour's handling of the economy and criticising Michael Howard over the Conservative's public spending plans.

Mr Waterstone said: "For me it was the single issue of Iraq. The invasion was a shameful and disgraceful action. I think Blair should have resigned over Iraq and Gordon Brown should now be Prime Minister."

Mr Potter said: "I did not agree with the Iraq war or the process by which the decision to invade Iraq was arrived at. I do not understand why we had to align ourselves with a very right-wing Republican president and why we couldn't wait for the evidence coming from Hans Blix [the UN weapons inspector]. I do not think the Government operated correctly, and I don't think the Cabinet and the Prime Minister did either. Politics is a serious matter. It is not about celebrity-style imagery. It is about judgement. It seems to me that the process of Cabinet government was lacking and so, yes, it was an issue about trust and judgement."

A spokesman for Sir Terence said: "It's not a case of him not backing Labour but rather disagreeing with Tony Blair on a few things. Iraq is one. Student tuition fees is another."

Other business leaders who signed the letter in 2001 but failed to endorse Labour this time include Sir John Parker, the chairman of National Grid Transco, and Allan Leighton, the chairman of Royal Mail. Among those who signed the letter this time applauding Labour for presiding over "unprecedented" economic growth and fostering an entrepreneurial society are Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse, Sir Gerry Robinson of Allied Domecq, Sir Gulam Noon of the Indian food group Noon, and Charles Allen of ITV.

Sir John's office said he had been unable to sign the letter because of his position as senior inde pendent non-executive director at the Bank of England. Mr Leighton is thought to have been prevented from endorsing Labour because he is now chairman of a state-owned company.