Leading article: Distrusted abroad, unloved at home

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The Independent Online

Why did Tony Blair postpone his holiday? The reason given by Downing Street is that the next few days will be "critical" in achieving a United Nations peace deal in Lebanon. But surely that is all the more reason why the Prime Minister should have headed to Barbados without delay.

The United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, was right. The UK should be taking a back seat in the drafting of this resolution. The reasons are both eminently practical. Thanks to Mr Blair, the UK has become a toxic presence in international affairs. As the Prime Minister himself conceded this week, Britain is not seen as "even handed" in the Middle East. Mr Blair's involvement can only make the search for a diplomatic solution more difficult. Of course, the United States, in the grip of the Bush administration, is hardly regarded as an honest broker in the region either. But only America's influence can deliver Israel's agreement on any proposed settlement.

The same is simply not true of Britain. As the now infamous "Yo Blair" exchange at the recent G8 meeting demonstrated, Mr Blair is very much the junior party in his alliance with President Bush. Nor can it be argued that Britain's involvement in these negotiations is vital on a logistical level. It is most unlikely that we could spare the troops to take part in the proposed international force to be deployed in southern Lebanon.

One advantage of Mr Blair's postponing his holiday is that he will be in the country to witness today's march in London to demand an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon and to protest against the wider thrust of British foreign policy. Mr Blair has spent much of the past week in the US being feted by corporate audiences. It is right that he should be subjected to some of the deep opposition to his policies at home.

Whether this demonstration will have any effect on Mr Blair's position is questionable. One million people taking to the streets in February 2003 to protest about the imminent invasion of Iraq did not affect our Prime Minister's support for the Bush administration over that war. Sadly, it is unlikely to do so in this case either.

Yet Mr Blair still finds himself in an unenviable predicament. Even Mr Blair with his "inner self-confidence" must be beginning to worry that his political legacy will be that of a leader distrusted abroad and deeply unpopular at home.

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