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Blair - with not too many votes to spare

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted May 9, 2005

After a mercifully short campaign Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party was re-elected for an historic third term. Its margin in Parliament appears to have been reduced by about half but he still enjoys a good majority, twice that of John Major when he was elected to the third Tory term which had begun with Margaret Thatcher's first election in 1979. Blair is now the third major figure to face the voters following the Iraq War.

In Australia the war was the issue in Prime Minister John Howard's upset victory, whereupon he actually gained seats in his unprecedented third-term attempt.

Then there was George W. Bush, who did far better at the polls in 2004 then he did in 2000. So while Blair did lose seats in this election he did not lose enough to endanger his majority.

The Labour Party was returned to office with only 37 per cent of the vote, its lowest percentage in modern times. Labour dropped five percentage points. The Liberals, once a major party in British politics but now clearly a third party, apparently gained four of those percentage points, to bring it to 22 per cent of the national vote, while increasing only a handful of Parliamentary seats. The hapless Conservatives, or Tories as they are called in much of Great Britain, remained at around 33 per cent of the vote, about where they were in the last election. They did pick up enough seats to cause the Prime Minister a few more problems than he had before but not enough to endanger his governing majority.

While Blair is disappointed in the outcome he should not be. Winston Churchill saved Great Britain. He helped to persuade FDR to begin to help the British as early as 1939, even though isolationist sentiment was running at a fever pitch.

FDR, in the 1940 election against Wendell L. Willkie, said he hated war and so did Eleanor, and he would not involve the USA in a European war. Then came Pearl Harbor. Sentiment in the country turned around instantly. That is why to this day some historians contend that FDR knew that an attack was coming from Japan but he let it happen so as to involve us in the war. Led by Charles A. Lindbergh, of solo trans-Atlantic Flight fame, the country had been overwhelmingly against our intervention in what appeared to be a war in which we had no stake. Lindbergh was almost the first to volunteer to fight the Nazis and isolationist sentiment never had reached the fever pitch it had in 1940-1941.

So without our help the British would today be speaking with a German accent and Churchill was responsible for persuading the British people to hang on. Yet as soon as VE Day and VJ Day had passed and the war officially was over Great Britain held an election and Clement R. Atlee of the Labour Party was elected Prime Minister. The man who was more than anyone else responsible for winning the war for the British was tossed out.

So Blair should rejoice at a comfortable victory. Given that the month long campaign was all about him, his character and whether or not he lied to the British people to get his country involved with the Americans in overthrowing the dictator in Iraq, Tony Blair ought to be celebrating the fact that his party was returned to office for an unprecedented third term. He did pledge before he dissolved Parliament and called for the election that this would be his last term. He would not seek a fourth.

Gordon: The heir apparent
Gordon: The heir apparent

One outcome which the British political commentators insist will be the case is that Blair will not serve out his full term. Because of the reduced majority, these commentators insist that Blair will turn his government over to Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is a post somewhat similar to the US Secretary of the Treasury. Brown and Blair are not unlike George Bush and John McCain. McCain supported Bush all the way in 2004 as Brown did Blair in 2005. But there is little love between Bush and McCain. The same is true for Blair and Brown. True, McCain supported Bush all the way in the Iraq war issue. True, Brown supported Blair on the same issue. Since the election, however, McCain has taken many swipes at the President over a variety of issues and may be one of the Republicans who refuses to go along with the "Constitutional option" to give an up-or- down vote to President Bush's judicial nominees. Brown clearly does not like Tony Blair's cozy relationship with George W. Bush and has hinted that if he gets to be Prime Minister he will chart an independent course for Great Britain. Blair cannot be forced to give up his position but if things get rocky he could be ousted in favor of Brown by a Labour Party Caucus, just as Margaret Thatcher was toppled by John Major in the caucus of the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile the Conservative Party has suffered its third straight defeat. Its leader, John Howard, never caught on with the public and it is entirely possible that he also will be tossed aside by a Conservative Party caucus later this year. Howard ran a disciplined campaign but his party did not oppose the Iraq War. So the campaign was about other issues, such as crime. Clearly the public was angry about the war to some extent but Howard, in a way, had the same problem which Sen. John Kerry had last autumn. Kerry also did not oppose the war in Iraq and some on the Left contended that had he done so he might have defeated George W. Bush. There is little evidence for that view, however, because Ralph Nader did oppose the Iraqi War and yet all but disappeared from the political landscape in 2004. If Howard had opposed the Iraqi War he might have picked up some of the vote which the Liberal Party received but it might have also depressed his vote as Conservatives have been among Blair's most vocal supporters of the War. The left wing of Blair's own party opposes the Iraqi War and but it is a minority.

So the voters have spoken but they did not speak as decisively as they often do. British commentators say very frequently that the British people always get the kind of government they want. So they will have Tony Blair to kick around again but for how long remains to be seen.

Paul M. Weyrich is the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

 

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