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Vote row over 'Blair lied' remarks

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Iraq war puts the trust in Blair to the test as election approaches. CNN's Robin Oakley reports
• CNN's Robin Oakley's blog:  Election fight turns personal
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LONDON, England -- British opposition leader Michael Howard has been defending his personal attacks on Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which he has accused him of lying over the war in Iraq.

The Conservative Party leader said Wednesday he still believed it was right to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but accused the prime minister of misrepresenting intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

"I still think it was the right thing to go to war," Howard told a news conference in London. "But you could have gone to war and told the truth and that is what Mr. Blair did not do."

Howard's attack came after his party unveiled a campaign poster ahead of the national election on May 5 accusing the prime minister of lying.

"If he's prepared to lie to take us to war, he's prepared to lie to win an election," says the billboard, which shows a picture of Blair.

General elections were all about accountability, Howard said, adding that "May 5 is your chance to tell Mr. Blair where to get off."

He added: "I am not aware of any occasion when I have deliberately or knowingly misled people and this is the charge I make against Mr. Blair."

The Conservatives, also known as the Tories, are trailing in most opinion polls but one published on Wednesday indicated that apathy could undermine Blair's hopes for an historic third term.

The MORI survey for the Financial Times showed Blair's Labour Party 10 points ahead among the whole sample, but just two points ahead of the Conservatives among those who said they were "absolutely certain" to vote. The poll had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

Blair brushed off Howard's accusations, pledging to use the remainder of the election campaign to talk about values and policy, rather than respond to "personal abuse."

"I don't care in the least about the Tory attacks on my character. I do care about the future of this country," he said in a speech in Bolton, northern England.

He was speaking the day after one anti-war Labour MP defected to the smaller opposition Liberal Democrat party.

"I urge everyone from the center and left of British politics to give Blair a bloody nose at the general election and vote for the Liberal Democrats," Brian Sedgemore said on Tuesday.

Sedgemore has been a constant critic of the government from the backbenches, particularly over the war in Iraq but also over Blair's plans for hospitals, university tuition and controversial anti-terrorism measures.

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