(I asked quarsan at BlairWatch , a truly activist blog that has broken major stories, if he could explain to us here in the States what Thursday’s election in Britain means. His repsonse is long and absolutely worth reading.)
The Short Rise and Long Fall of Tony Blair
(I’ve tried to keep it as impartial as I can:)
Tony has never been much of a party man and he has never had any real affection towards Labour. it was his Christian beliefs that influenced his decision to join in 1975 and he positioned himself on the soft left of the party.
In 1994 the Labour leader died and at his funeral the young Blair broke his promise not to run against Gordon Brown and was duly elected party leader.
Then the Conservatives imploded, partly because of recriminations following their 1990 assassination of Margaret Thatcher and partly over the divisive issue of Europe. Prime Minister Major lost his grip on the party which fell apart in a series of financial and sexual scandals. This corruption was the ultimate cause of Blair winning the 1997 election by a landslide.
Blair entered Downing Street with few people understanding what his politics actually were. We soon found out. After a brief reforming phase he began to put his theories into action. Basically he believed that the UK was essentially Conservative and elections were won or lost on the centre ground and that it was the growing middle classes who decided the victors. To outsiders it looked like neo-thatcherism.
Blair looked as though he had a winning formula and many embraced it. Labour had been in a bad way since 1979 and were widely thought to have split for good had Blair lost. For many he represented the last chance for the party. A third of the party were believers in Blairism, a third were pragmatists and a third detested him.
His first term was largely successful and the floundering Conservatives easily lost the 2001 election and carried on their tradition of picking laughably inept leaders. The Conservatives were in trouble, Blair had lifted many of their policies, they remained at each others throats over Europe and were turning to their declining, elderly and largely senile party members right of sensible views.
The Turning Point
People were gradually getting disillusioned with Blair. He was seen as being more about style and presentation rather than substance. He was outstanding at major events, such as the death of Diana and September 11th. But he had weaknesses. Having always possessed a messianic streak and a belief in his destiny as a world leader he gradually stopped seeing the difference between what was good for him and what was good for the nation.
His decision to go to war in Iraq brought his downfall.
He decided to give unquestioning support to Bush, and it is very hard indeed to overstate the contempt and derision the British people, of all political beliefs have towards the current President and Blair’s closeness and devotion to the White House worried and baffled many people.
He pushed through approval for the war because people believed him when he said he had proof positive that Iraq had WMD and could threaten the UK within 45 minutes.
At this point many people were viewing him with suspicion but accepted his assurances. Meanwhile Blair was jetting around, playing at world statesman and enjoying being the literate half of the Bush/Blair alliance.
After the war it became clear that the case for war was fatally flawed and this contributed to people simply not believing a word he said. The party had lost half it’s members and those remaining were deeply frustrated.
In the Summer of 2004 Blair was under considerable stress and a family crisis caused many to wonder if he should go. His great rival, Gordon Brown failed to act. He had watched what happened to the plotters who brought down Thatcher and the long term damage it caused to the Conservatives.
Instead Blair’s self belief was reinforced and some openly wondered if he was sane. It is said that nobody leaves Downing St entirely sane. Certainly Margaret Thatcher swiftly lost her marbles and took up serious drinking. In contrast, John Major, who had tried to rule by consensus appeared to be having the time of his life.
Blair won his third election in 2005 with a reduced majority and only 35% of the popular vote. Once again the Conservatives didn’t look as though they were really trying to win. Even so, the first days of the campaign were disastrous for Tony and Gordon Brown was brought in. The message was: Vote Tony, Get Brown.
Blair became more remote and out of touch, believing that he alone knew what was best for the nation. After the election he promised, for the upteenth time to listen to the people; the people were resolutely unconvinced. In the meantime the steady stream of scandals got worse and worse.
To finance the last election campaign Tony had asked Lord Levy to extract 14 million pounds from rich donors, most of whom were nominated for Peerages and life membership of the House of Lords. This is now being investigated by the police, but you would find few Brits who did not believe that Lordships were basically for sale.
His government fell apart under all sorts of scandals, large and small. Iraq became the elephant in the room, but it was the bullying through Parliament of deeply unpopular measures that made each party rebellion larger than the previous one. Discontent was reaching crisis point.
The Final Straw
The recent local elections were a disaster. The background of incompetence in several key ministries and his Deputy Prime Minister being revealed to have the sexual appetite of a rabbit and the sophistication of a rutting Rhino were emblematic of a party in disarray. Polls also showed that people thought the Blair administration to be even more sleazy and corrupt that John Majors – a real achievement for a man who promised his government would be ‘whiter than white’. A brutal reshuffle of his cabinet has brought no relief.
What Happens Now?
Blair is toast. He’s finished. What the party need to do is to dethrone him without splitting the party or it getting openly bloody. Remember, whoever replaces Blair will be Prime Minister. How will this be done? Well the people openly calling for him to go, or with true English politeness, to ‘name a date’ for resignation are not the third of the party who detest Blair, but the two thirds that either supported him or tolerated him. Now he’s seen as a vote loser and their support has evaporated.
I predict he will name a date soon and there will be an election for a new leader this October at the party conference. Brown is predicted to be the winner, but I can see someone else wearing the crown.