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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2614

B ye .. Bye .. Blair

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

On September 7 this year, a day after six of his party members of Parliament had resigned protesting his refusal to announce a timetable for his exit, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, announced that he would quit office ‘within a year’, certainly by May 2007, so that his successor had ‘enough time’ to settle in office and guide the destiny of Labour as successfully as he had.

May 2007 is still a long way off, but the general speculation is that he will go before that as many in his party seem to think that the longer he stays in office the lesser the chances of the Labour’s hope for a fourth consecutive win at the hustings. One British poll shows that 58 percent of the Brits want him to step down now. An ignominious exit awaits the man who was once hailed as the greatest Labour prime ministers who had ended an 18-year-old spell of Tory rule.

The fortunes of 53-year-old Blair, in office since 1997, would perhaps hold some interest for Indians too. There are a number of things that would be noticed in India as a contrast to the way politics is played in the world’s largest democracy, that is India and in the ‘mother’ of all democracies.

The cries for Blair’s ouster are being raised loudly and clearly by his own colleagues and yet the nation is not in turmoil and the Opposition parties are not staging sit-ins or rushing to the head of the country to demand that the prime minister be thrown out of office without any further delay. Critics of Blair air their views about what they think are wrong policies and face no ‘disciplinary’ action.

Some of the criticism of Blair is supposed to be of ‘personal’ nature. One rival accused Blair of being ‘a control freak’. It is not sure if anybody in India would see that as an ‘abuse’, much less a ‘personal’ attack. Most amazing for India, there is no talk of defections from what might appear to be a sinking ship. The flip-side of Blairism is largely related to domestic issues and his excessive leaning on the US president, George Bush. Of course, there is also this long and not so veiled leadership battle between him and Gordon Brown, the chancellor for exchequer, who is tipped to take over from him.

Many outside Britain are likely to feel that the main contributor to Blair’s downfall is his image as a Bush ‘poodle’ which he acquired by blindly endorsing everything that Bush did in the Middle East. He seemed unconcerned over the annoyance it caused to his party members.

Blair remained unmoved by the rising domestic opposition to sending of British troops to Iraq---another gesture of his endorsement of Bush policies. That is in line with his 2003 decision, just before the Iraq invasion, rejecting the opinion of his attorney general, Lord Goldsmith that it would be legally wrong to go to war in Iraq before the Security Council authorised a military attack.

A number of recent opinion polls in Britain have shown that increasing number of people in Britain are opposed to British troops being sent abroad to be killed in the distant battlefields like Iraq and Afghanistan; countries with which ordinary British citizens do not connect easily. However, it has to be said that Britain’s support to the US initiative to throw out Saddam Hussein did seem to enjoy some degree of public support at the time. The British parliament gave a clear support to the invasion of Iraq after the government had led members—and the public—to believe that Saddam Hussein could launch his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ within 45 minutes.

Not that there were no indications of disagreement right from the beginning of the Iraqi campaign. As many as 139 Labour MPs did not want their country to plunge into Iraq war. The former foreign minister, Robin Cook, had resigned as leader of the House of Commons on March 18, 2003, a day before US troops started to pound Iraq. A few weeks later, in May, another minister, Clare Short, announced her resignation over Iraq. London witnessed a protest demonstration by one million people, an uncommonly large number of protestors in the West in the month of February of the year (2003).

The claims of Saddam Hussein’s WMD were soon found to be bogus. But an inquiry commission was exonerated the Blair government of that charge that it had ‘sexed up’ intelligence findings about Iraq’s so-called WMD. Nevertheless, it did not take long to emerge that the US case for invading Iraq, which Blair supported wholeheartedly, was based on false premises. Brits began to urge their prime minister to Part Company with Bush.

Far from listening to this, Blair began to lean even more closely towards Bush and the neocon policies that his administration pursued and propagated. When even the traditional European allies of the US like France and Germany showed reluctance to send their troops to Iraq, Blair jumped quickly to Bush’s defence and announced his decision to send troops to Iraq. He was not willing to review this policy even when body bags started to arrive in Britain. The distinction between the policies of 'he man' Bush, and the foreign policy the youthful looking British Tony Blair of the robust ‘New’ Labour was trying to pursue became blurred.

Disappointment with Blair began to mount rapidly in his party as well as his countrymen who had elected him last year for a ‘historic’ third win in a row. The dissatisfaction over the Iraq policy was amalgamated with many contentious domestic issues while the leadership tussle between Blair and Brown that took root way back in 1994 began to boil.

The trade unions despaired at him and the ranks of his detractors within the Labour party began to swell. His ministerial colleagues shot down some important plans of his for increasing public services expenditure. They had already vetoed his plan to decide through a referendum if Britain should adopt a single European currency.

All the gloss over Britain’s seventh longest-serving prime minister and arguably Labour’s most successful leader to head the government had begun to wear off. How much of this sheen will remain by the time he actually bows out of office?

-Syndicate Features -

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