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Analysis: Bruising week for Blair

By CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley

Blair
Blair's authority will be put to the test as never before.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- For prime ministers at the sharp end of world affairs, crisis headlines come around almost weekly.

But this time Tony Blair concedes it is for real. Over 24 hours his authority will be put to the test as never before.

First British lawmakers will vote Tuesday on a controversial plan to allow universities to charge variable fees, recouped from students when they become earners.

It is a crunch because many of Blair's own Labour Party MPs are threatening to join opposition parties in voting down the idea, which Blair insists is a crucial reform.

Blair himself has said: "It's going to be a big struggle. There are lots of people to persuade but, no, there will be absolutely no retreat on the principles of this at all."

If he loses that vote, Blair's authority will be shattered.

But then on Wednesday comes the Hutton inquiry report into the death of David Kelly, who confessed to his government bosses he might have been the source for a BBC story that Blair "sexed up" the dossier making the case for war against Iraq.

BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan reported that Downing Street made the claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical and biological weapons at 45 minutes' notice against the wishes of intelligence advisers and knowing it to be wrong.

Blair told the inquiry: "This was an attack which went to the heart of the office of prime minister and the way our intelligence services operated. If true it would have merited my resignation."

But who then pushed Kelly into the public spotlight he then found it so hard to endure? Last July Blair told journalists it was not him.

"I did not authorize the leaking of the name of David Kelly," he emphatically told a journalist who asked if he had.

But Sir Kevin Tebitt, the most senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence, seemingly told the inquiry a different story.

Tebbit told the inquiry that a decisive meeting at Number 10 in July had been chaired by the prime minister. It was decided at the meeting that a press statement would be released and Kelly's name confirmed if put forward by a journalist.

Peter Osborne, Political Editor of the Spectator magazine, said: "The importance of the evidence given by Kevin Tebbit ... to the Hutton inquiry at a very late stage really can't be overestimated because the message that came through was that Tony Blair himself, from within Downing Street, coordinated and led the whole strategy of naming Kelly."

Polls show that if Hutton does blame the prime minister for Kelly's death, then a majority of the public would want him to resign.

Analysts agree it is more likely the blame will be spread. And Blair can counteract a defeat in parliament by staging a confidence vote he would win.

But either way he is in for a bruising week.


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