Wishing Kerry well

Is the British government secretly hoping for a Democratic victory in November?

Published September 1, 2004 2:21PM (EDT)

John Kerry supporters in America have been told by Peter Hain that Downing Street is hoping the Democratic candidate wins the U.S. presidential election in November.

Hain, who sits in the Cabinet as leader of the Commons, has been in the U.S. on a mostly private visit. He met Labor supporters in New York, as well as members of the Kerry team. He has declined to discuss the visit, and his public remarks at a party thrown by former Sunday Times Editor Harold Evans were largely bland. But in private discussions with guests, his tone was markedly different.

Those who met him had the strong impression that he was acting with No. 10's support, and that a Democratic victory was clearly sought. Such a supposition ought to be natural, but historic ties have been jolted by the strategic and sometimes personal alliance between George W. Bush and Tony Blair over Iraq. Hain's visit may be seen by some as diplomatic ground covering in the event of a Kerry victory.

In public the government will remain studiously neutral. And some Blairites doubt that Kerry has the campaign drive to defeat the incumbent. But in a sign of frustration inside the Labor Party at the government's neutrality, the Blairite group Progress is to issue a scathing attack on Bush's record, although the group is sympathetic to the action in Iraq. Alan Milburn, a former Cabinet minister, is its honorary president.

In an editorial in its journal of the same name next week, Progress says: "By his manner, his rhetoric and sometimes his actions George Bush has presented to the world an image of America that its friends know is not its true face.

"That is why those who recognize that American leadership is vital and a force for good in an uncertain world will wish John Kerry well."

By Patrick Wintour

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