The British Elections
Earlier today Tony Blair called for the dissolution of Parliament and a general election on May 5. That's right: one month from today, with the campaign actually not getting completely underway until after Pope John Paul II's funeral on Friday and Prince Charles' wedding on Saturday. So it's basically going to be a three-week sprint to the wire, astonishing as that may seem to us Americans who are used to two-year marathons.
Moreover, Blair's announcement coincided with the release of a couple of national polls showing Labour's margin over the Tories shrinking significantly. The Guardian/ICM poll has Labour at 37 percent, the Conservatives at 34 percent, and the LibDems at 21 percent, with a lot of indications of voter volatility. This is a bit misleading, since Labour enjoys a vote-distribution advantage that would convert these numbers into a parliamentary majority of somewhere between 90 and 100 seats, but it's still likely to be a more competitive election than appeared likely just a couple of weeks ago.
As many of you probably know, British party politics in the last few years have revolved around four dynamics: (1) significant public unhappiness with Blair's foreign policies, and especially Britain's role in Iraq, which have offset general approbation of Labour's domestic, and especially economic policies; (2) the chronic weakness of the Tory opposition, which suffers from leadership and message problems that make the superficially similar problems of American Democrats pale in comparison; (3) the steady transformation of the LibDems, who used to be generally considered a centrist party, into a Left Opposition to Labour, especially on foreign policy and cultural issues; and (4) restiveness about Labour's relatively long hold on power, which would become really remarkable if it wins a third straight general election.
I don't know how many NewDonkey readers are interested in British politics, but I do intend to blog about this semi-regularly between now and May 5. And while I will try to present objective analysis of what's going on, I'll disclose right up front that I am a Tony Blair and Labour partisan.
No, I'm not happy with the moral and intellectual support that Blair has provided not just to George W. Bush's foreign policies, but to Bush himself (every time they have a joint press conference, I half-expect Bush to respond to a question with: "What he said."), but what do you expect from any British Prime Minister? I have zero doubts, and lots of reasons to believe, that 10 Downing Street would have been ecstatic at a Kerry victory last November, and that the U.S.-British alliance would have flourished as never before.
But the bottom line is that on every key issue facing his country, our country, and the world, Tony Blair has an abundance of exactly what virtually all U.S. Democrats say a party of the center-left should have: a clear, articulate vision; a values-based progressive message that does not ignore collective security or cultural issues; and a full agenda for shaping change in the interests of most people, especially those with no privilege or power, even in places like Africa. He is also, of course, one of the few twenty-first century survivors among the wave of center-left politicians who won striking victories throughout the West in the 1990s, consigning, or so it seemed at the time, Reagan-Thatcher style conservative politics to the dustbin of history. And to the extent that left-leaning Labour activists (and their U.S. counterparts) with various issues with Blair hope Gordon Brown succeeds him as P.M. during a third term, let me add that I think Brown is a potentially great leader as well, and shares Blair's New Labour vision more than a lot of observers realize.
So I hope Labour wins, but will try to offer a few news items and insights on the campaign as it develops, and however it develops. --