I would not call PM a liar, says Clarke

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Indy Politics

Michael Howard came under mounting criticism yesterday for branding Tony Blair a "liar" as the election campaign became more negative and personal.

Michael Howard came under mounting criticism yesterday for branding Tony Blair a "liar" as the election campaign became more negative and personal.

Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor and one of Mr Howard's team of "wise men", said he was "not sure" if he would have sanctioned the Tories' latest poster that labels Mr Blair a liar. It says: "If he's prepared to lie to take us to war, he's prepared to lie to win an election."

Mr Clarke told the BBC's Daily Politics he believed Mr Blair "misled" the country over the reasons for the Iraq war. But, asked if the Prime Minister was a liar, he replied: "I have not used the word myself. I am an old parliamentarian."

The Rt Rev Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, said it was a "very, very serious charge" to make against the Prime Minister and suggested the Tories should not have used the word "liar" in a poster featuring Mr Blair.

The Bishop said: "The leaders of the three main parties are honourable men. I think it is quite wrong to imply any one of those three is somehow fundamentally dishonest, whoever it is."

He added: "I think there's a great worry about using a phrase like 'liar'. That does imply somebody has deliberately told an untruth. That's very different from whatever degree of spin there might be.

"All politics involves a certain selection of some facts, rather than others. Inevitably there is some degree of spin. But that's very, very different from the deliberate telling of untruths, of lying."

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, refused to call Mr Blair a "liar" despite his "profound disagreements" with him over Iraq and his party's opposition to the war. He said: "I've not used that particular four-letter word. I'm not persuaded it's guaranteed to be true."

He believed Mr Blair "was sincere in his views at the time" even though he believed "he was wrong in his views and political judgment." He said the Conservatives had "concluded they are losing this election", causing them to mount "the most negative form of personalised campaign".

Labour officials hope Mr Howard's attack will misfire, citing polls showing that voters are turning against the Tory campaign.

Mr Blair, who accused the Tories of resorting to "personal abuse" because they had nothing to say on policy, told Sky News last night: "I have never told a lie. No. I don't intend to go telling lies to people. I did not lie over Iraq."

Earlier, he told a panel of voters on ITV News: "You've got to make up your minds about this. If you believe that I stood up there and told a whole lot of lies then that is a reason for not voting for me. But I actually took the decision on the evidence I had and I took it honestly believing it was the right thing for the country to do."

Gordon Brown gave Mr Blair his most unequivocal support so far, dismissing the claims he had lied as "incorrect" and saying the war was "right" last night. "The war was right because Saddam Hussein should not be allowed to continue to ignore the decisions of the international community for year after year," the Chancellor said.

He added: "Mr Blair did tell the truth."

The Tories vowed to keep up their attacks. A source said: "If Mr Blair does not want to be called a liar, he should stop telling lies."

Mr Howard said the Tories were right to make the Prime Minister's character an issue at the election because, he said, Mr Blair lied over his reasons for going to war and tax rises.

But according to an ICM survey published today for The Guardian, Mr Blair's personal ratings have risen in the past week even though 44 per cent of people regard him as a "liar".