British Prime Minister Tony Blair faced a studio audience of female voters in a television appearance ahead of May’s expected election. He was tackled on issues from the Iraq war to dirty hospitals and youth crime when he appeared on ITV’s Jonathan Dimbleby show.
The premier is aiming to woo back women voters. His youthful looks and down-to-earth style transformed Labour in the mid 1990s into a party that appealed to women and the middle classes. It won a landslide victory in 1997. Eight years on, Iraq riled the female TV audience most.
“Will you have the humility to tell us you actually made a mistake because if you did I would vote for you again?” asked one woman. “I’m sorry I can’t do that,” Blair replied. “I’m very sorry. If you want me to say that I regret the decision to go to conflict, I can’t do that for you.”
Blair remained optimistic that he was doing a good job. “It is very hard when you come in after 18 years of opposition,” he said. “People have this tremendous sense that everything suddenly is going to be put right and I suppose in a sense – even me, myself, was sort of swept along with that. I just hope in 2005, if you do a balance sheet, it is not all bad.”
He was also quizzed about crime and health spending but the Iraq war kept returning to haunt him. “I really feel so strongly that we should never have gone to war and I have not been convinced by anything anyone has told me to the contrary,” said one woman, outside the TV studio. Polls show Britons feel Blair has lost touch with ordinary people and neglected schools and hospitals for the war in Iraq. However, they also point to a third poll win for Labour, albeit with a reduced parliamentary majority.