Voters believe Blair should quit if Hutton blames him for leak

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Indy Politics

A majority of voters think that Tony Blair should resign if Lord Hutton finds that he authorised the leaking of Dr David Kelly's name, a poll revealed last night.

The Channel 4 News survey emerged as Mr Blair spent a second successive week on the defensive over the issue at Prime Minister's Questions.

The Hutton inquiry heard in October that the Prime Minister chaired a Downing Street meeting where the media strategy that led to Dr Kelly's identification was decided.

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, again asked Mr Blair yesterday if he stood by his remark in July that he had not authorised the naming of the weapons scientist.

Mr Blair insisted he stood by "all" of his previous comments and countered that Mr Howard had "effectively" accused him of lying and demanded an apology if he was cleared by the Hutton report.

The Channel 4 poll found that 57 per cent of those questioned by YouGov felt the Prime Minister should quit if Lord Hutton ruled he had agreed to the strategy of confirming Dr Kelly's name to the press.

Mr Blair is expected to say that confirming the name is not the same as leaking it when the report is published, probably at the end of this month.

Just 17 per cent said Mr Blair had not acted wrongly in the weeks leading up to Dr Kelly's death. He was blamed "a great deal" by 18 per cent, "a fair amount" by 28 per cent and "a little" by 17 per cent.

However, Mr Blair remains a more popular choice for Prime Minister than the leaders of the two main opposition parties. A majority, 63 per cent, also see him as decisive, 46 per cent as principled, 46 per cent as likeable, 44 per cent as competent and firmly in charge.

To Tory jeers during questions yesterday, the Prime Minister insisted he stood by "all I have said in relation to this issue". Mr Howard repeatedly asked Mr Blair whether he stood by his statement to journalists on 22 July that he had not authorised the naming of the weapons expert to the media.

Mr Blair consistently refused to answer the question, saying: "I stand by all I have said on this issue but I believe the judgement on it should await the publication of the report."

Mr Howard said his refusal to answer a straightforward question with a "yes" or "no" showed how "desperately dodgy" the Prime Minister's position had become.

"Do you have the faintest idea of what damage you are doing to what's left of your reputation by your refusal to answer this question?" he asked.

But Mr Blair finally made clear that he intended to "lead the Government's case" following publication of the report, including in a Commons debate as well as a statement on the day of publication. "You will have to be patient. But I can assure you I have absolutely no intention of doing anything other than leading the Government's case on this issue. That is important and I look forward to doing so."

"What's perfectly obvious, not least from the 50-page document put out by the Conservative Party a few days ago, is they intend to make up their minds now. It really doesn't matter what the report says. They have already made up their minds. I will make up mine when the report is published."

Last night, Mr Howard sought to step up the pressure by writing to Mr Blair to ask why he would not stand by his answer given to journalists.

Mr Howard said Lord Hutton had pointed out Downing Street did not think it appropriate to make available to him the transcript of the answer.

"There is no reason whatsoever to believe Lord Hutton will feel he has any duty to touch in his report on the answers you gave on 22 July," he wrote. "By answering the point I put to you today, you would in no way be pre-judging the report."