Union tries to railroad Labour into Iraq war debate

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The pressure on Tony Blair showed little sign of abating last night as it emerged that he could face a humiliating debate on Iraq at next week's Labour conference in Bournemouth.

The biggest rail union tried to force the party high command to accept an emergency motion on the issue yesterday. As it did so, a poll showed that half the public want the Prime Minister to quit and believe the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, would make Labour more popular. The Mori poll for today's Financial Times, coincided with a survey for The Guardian showing that a quarter of Labour MPs want the premier to resign. The setbacks leave Mr Blair facing the most serious challenge to his authority since he came to power.

Theconference arrangements committee is under enormous pressure to accept a debate, as tens of thousands of protesters arrive in London for a demonstration today against the occupation of Iraq.

Before the intervention of the RMT rail union, there was doubt whether the issue would have been formally raised at next week's assembly. Without a debate, delegates were unlikely to have a chance to vote against the Government's policy - a virtual certainty if the resolution reaches the order paper. The motion argues that there was "no justification" for war, that it has made the region less stable and that it has increased the risk of terrorist attacks. It also calls for the withdrawal of Allied troops and for control to be ceded to Iraqis.

The FT poll, conducted between 11 and 16 September, suggests Labour's lead over the Tories would rise from nine to 15 points under Mr Brown.