Polls show backlash against Blair after 'whitewash' report

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Ministers may feel delighted that Lord Hutton vindicated them, but sceptical voters give them no credit for it. A poll yesterday was the sixth in three days to show that the Government has suffered an unexpected public backlash from those who suspect the law lord's report was a whitewash.

The YouGov survey for ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, showed half of voters believe Lord Hutton was wrong to conclude that the Government did not "sex up" its September 2002 dossier about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. More than half of those surveyed think there should be a judicial inquiry into how the Government took Britain into war with Iraq.

Asked if they thought the Hutton inquiry was judicious and balanced or a whitewash, some 26 per cent replied judicious and balanced, and 55 per cent said it was a whitewash.

Despite Lord Hutton's verdict against the BBC, the corporation is still perceived to be more trustworthy than the Government. Forty-four per cent trusted the BBC more to tell the truth, and 12 per cent trusted the Government more. But 29 per cent trusted neither.

Respondents were also asked if the Hutton report had affected their view of whether Tony Blair could be trusted to tell the truth. Some 7 per cent said they trusted him more and 12 per cent said they trusted him less. Fifty per cent said their view had not changed - they still did not trust him - and 23 per cent said their view was unchanged; they still trusted him. Nearly 62 per cent said they did not trust him or trusted him less after the report.

An ICM poll for the News of the World found 54 per cent of voters thought Mr Blair's reputation has been damaged by the Hutton report. Just 14 per cent thought his status had improved after Lord Hutton cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Thirty per cent thought Mr Blair's position had been seriously damaged. A further 24 per cent said it had suffered slightly. But the BBC has also lost public confidence, the survey showed. It found 56 per cent of people believed they should not have to pay a licence fee, up from 40 per cent in a similar poll in October.

The poll hardly made better reading for Michael Howard, the Tory leader. Some 26 per cent of people said his reputation had deteriorated after he staked so much on the report. Just 15 per cent thought his image has been enhanced after his response to the report.

An ICM survey for The Guardian on Saturday found the BBC was trusted to tell the truth by three times as many people as trusted the Government. Just one in 10 had faith in ministers compared with 31 per cent who believed the corporation. But 49 per cent, trusted neither side. Forty five per cent said Mr Blair lied about sanctioning the leak of David Kelly's name, compared with 38 per cent who said he told the truth.

In an NOP poll for the London Evening Standard, 49 per cent of people branded the report a whitewash, with 40 per cent disagreeing. Fifty-six per cent, said Lord Hutton was wrong to lay all the blame at the door of the BBC.

A Populus poll for The Times found that more than a third of people took a less favourable view of Mr Blair after the report. Eleven per cent were viewed him more favourably, and 53 per cent were unchanged in their view. Some 56 per cent of voters believe the Hutton report was a whitewash, according to a YouGov poll in The Daily Telegraph.

GOVERNMENT FACES ANOTHER TOUGH WEEK

MONDAY: No public engagements for Tony Blair as he spends most of the day in Downing Street preparing for an appearance before the Commons liaison committee.

There is likely to be contact between No 10 and the White House over President George Bush's shifting position on WMD. The Tories are to publish a Commons motion calling for an independent inquiry into the failure to find WMD.

TUESDAY: Mr Blair appears before the liaison committee, which comprises the Commons' most senior backbenchers. The hunt for WMD in Iraq and last week's knife-edge vote on university top-up fees are likely to be important issues.

The Government is also expected to respond to a report by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which judged that Downing Street had not "sexed up" the September 2002 dossier that made the case for war in Iraq.

WEDNESDAY: Prime Minister's Questions, followed by a full-day debate on the Hutton report. Mr Blair will lead for the Government.

THURSDAY: Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, who surprisingly emerged unscathed from the Hutton report, will give evidence to the Defence Committee, which is investigating the lessons that could be learnt from the war in Iraq.

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