Blair Boasts of Long Tenure, Then Gets Queries on Ending It

  1. Blair is Bush's most supportive ally with regards to the Iraq war.

    Blair is coming under intense heat for the decision (and motives surrounding that decision) to go to war against Iraq.

    The following is an article from the 7/30/2003 New York Times.
    Blair Boasts of Long Tenure, Then Gets Queries on Ending It

    LONDON, July 30-Prime Minister Tony Blair opened a news conference at Downing Street today with a charts-and-graphs presentation of his government's achievements and the boast that on Saturday he becomes the longest continuous-serving Labor prime minister in British history.

    Then he faced a barrage of questions asking whether he was quitting.

    "There's a big job of work to do, and my appetite for doing it is undiminished," he replied, his smile a wan likeness of the normal high wattage version. "There's an enormous amount still to do, but those achievements are real."

    The political fallout over Britain's participation in the war in Iraq has presented the government with the greatest crisis in its six years in office, and the most commonly voiced speculation these days centers on whether Mr. Blair will leave office prematurely.

    There is scant evidence that he will have to or will choose to, but that hasn't quieted the talk. "Suddenly it is possible to imagine life without Tony Blair at Number 10," wrote Michael Brown, a columnist at The Independent.

    Mr. Blair, newly turned 50, has sustained high popularity ratings longer than any prime minister in British history, and the statistics he displayed today showed some indisputable accomplishment in delivering sound economics, more efficient health services, better education and reduced crime.

    He also has an impregnable majority in Parliament and a track record as an effective campaigner who wins elections against the Conservatives, who long dominated British politics.

    But the attention-getting statistic cited by today's questioners and a number of dissident party members who are calling on him to resign is one from a recent poll showing that two-thirds of the British public no longer trust him. The Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has taken to ending his weekly rebuttals of Mr. Blair in Parliament with the phrase, "And isn't it true that nobody believes a word he says anymore."

    This erosion of public trust is a particular point of vulnerability for Mr. Blair, who has based much of his appeal on claims of integrity and sincerity. Both have been called into question by the charged argument here over whether there were non-conventional weapons in Iraq after all and whether Mr. Blair misrepresented the threat in his zeal to gain public support for going to war.

    The dispute over weapons and intelligence has crystallized around the suicide of Dr. David Kelly, a defense ministry arms inspector who took his life on July 18 after being identified as the source of a BBC report of alleged government tampering with intelligence information. The government vigorously denied the report and seized on it to mount a campaign to discredit the public service broadcaster for following what it called "an anti-war agenda."

    A judicial investigation into the whole matter led by Lord Hutton, a senior judge, opens Friday. That in effect means that the vexing question of why Britain went to war will remain alive all summer, keeping the heat on Mr. Blair and eliminating the lull in political debate that traditionally follows the departure of parliament and government officials on vacation. Mr. Blair has said he will interrupt his holiday in Barbados to fly back to testify.

    The failure to turn up weapons of mass destruction and the disputes over possible intelligence manipulation have posed a particular problem for Mr. Blair because he defined the case for going to war as the weapons threat. In addition, he was dealing with a public that was opposed to the war until British troops entered Iraq and that has now swung back into opposition citing betrayal over the weapons issue.

    At home he faces disquiet from people who believe his foreign entanglements have caused him to neglect domestic concerns. Mr. Blair came into office in 1997 promising an overhaul of the creaking welfare state, and many voters believe that remains an unfulfilled promise.

    The charts he produced today may have convincing evidence of accomplishment in those areas, but the general public impression is that after a first term of busy accomplishment and government unity, the second term has been one of drift and internal division. Some of his most vocal opponents are members of his own party, and the most persistent call on him to step down comes from Clare Short, the former secretary for international development who resigned from the cabinet over the war.

    Mr. Blair has pressed politics that many in the Labor Party view as illiberal and divisive. It has tried to establish independent financing for high-performing National Health Service hospitals, sought to shift some of the costs of university education onto students and curbed the right to jury trials in an effort as an anti-crime measure.

    The normally combative British press has become even more aggressive in the absence of corrective opposition from the weakened Conservatives.

    The record that Mr. Blair cited today is that on Saturday he will be surpassing the continuous tenure in office of former Labor prime minister Clement Atlee, who led the country from 1945 to 1951. Harold Wilson still holds the record for longest serving Labor prime minister because he was in office twice-from 1964 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1976-for a total of eight years.

    The Conservatives are no threat to a continuation of the Labor government. Last Friday, The Daily Telegraph gave the Tories a three-point lead over Labor, but the margin reflected more the decline in the government's fortunes than any indication that the leading opposition party was gaining any traction.

    Analysts pointed out that at the equivalent stage of the 1992 parliament, Labor held a 33 point lead over the Tories and still failed to defeat them in the next election. The poll also showed that when voters were asked who would make the better prime minister, 31 percent said Mr. Blair and only 21 percent named Mr. Duncan Smith.

    Many people blame the shortfall between the positive news of the accomplishments that Mr. Blair displayed today and the negative impression that the public receives on the government's often highhanded information management, commonly derided as "spin."

    Mr. Blair's powerful director of communications and strategy, Alastair Campbell, is widely rumored to be resigning from the government in the fall, and some have seized on this to say that his departure will be the moment to announce an end to spin.

    If so, it will not be the first time that the government has taken the pledge. Mr. Blair did it a year ago when he held the first of his monthly press conferences.

    At the time, the cover of Private Eye, the satirical magazine, pictured him saying, "From now on, it's no more spin". By his side was Mr. Campbell responding, "I think that'll play well."
  2. 8 Comments

  3. by   Mkue
    I hope Tony Blair doesn't quit, he has accomplished so much.

  4. by   Ted
    I'm hoping our friends from across "the pond" can shed some light on Mr. Blair. I honestly don't know too much about him to form any opinion.

    Any light shed on how politics takes place "across the pond" would be interesting!

  5. by   SharonH, RN
    Ted, I too would like to know what our friends from across the water think. I am very interested in what price Mr. Blair may pay for his blind allegiance to Mr. Bush.(or if they even see it that way!)
  6. by   pickledpepperRN
    Sorry I can't type what British friends have said about Blair (they live here anyway). So only have articles from the BBC to offer.
    In standing alongside President Bush, Mr Blair has managed to alienate many traditional Labour supporters who remain deeply suspicious of the world's only remaining superpower, and in particular of the current occupant of the White House.
    That distrust is also shared by many in Europe and the prime minister faced the daunting - some say impossible - task of trying to bridge the gap between the views of 'old Europe', led by France and Germany, and the unflinching position of the American administration.
    Mr Blair's supporters argued that he was not meekly following the American line, but instead remained true to a position he has held for many years, that if Saddam Hussein would not disarm peacefully then force would have to be used.
    In the event, action against Iraq went ahead despite massive Commons rebellions and the resignation of two cabinet ministers - one before the conflict and one afterwards.
    Mr Blair, in a widely admired speech to MPs, won the day with his insistence that without military action, Saddam would continue to defy the international community.
    But while the war was won, the much-expected "Baghdad bounce" which Downing Street hoped would boost Mr Blair's popularity to new heights failed to materialise.
    The weapons programmes in Iraq which the prime minister warned about have, as yet, not been found. There has been disquiet about an alleged lack of planning for post-war Iraq.
    Questions have been raised about the intelligence upon which the UK went to war - prompting a bitter and divisive row between the government, and particularly media chief Alastair Campbell, and the BBC.
    And the death of Iraq weapons expert Dr David Kelly, who apparently killed himself after giving evidence to MPs investigating the way the case for war was made, looms over the political agenda.
    An inquiry into the death of the scientist - who was the source of BBC stories questioning the way the case for war was presented - will dominate the summer months at a time when the Blair administration might otherwise have been celebrating an historic anniversary as the longest-serving Labour government.
    The prime minister says his appetite for the job ahead of him - which includes winning the trust of those doubting both the merits of the Iraq war and proving his commitment to public service reform - remains undiminished.
    The coming months will test that resolve in the extreme.
    Blair chalks up another record

    By Nick Assinder
    BBC News Online political correspondent

    There is little doubt that the prime minister would like to be seen as the New Labour equivalent of Attlee and he has often likened his plans for the NHS to those pioneering moves by the 1945 government.
    But, as he marks this point in Labour history, he knows he is facing challenges which could yet spell disaster.
    His government is being battered on all sides, not only on foreign policy - particularly the war on Iraq - but also on domestic issues such as foundation hospitals and student finance.
    And his own personal popularity is taking a major battering over spin and the issue of trust.
  7. by   Mkue
    Evidence of WMD plotting found in Iraq
    By David Rennie and George Jones
    (Filed: 01/08/2003)

    There was a sense of relief in Whitehall yesterday that the Prime Minister, who has staked his reputation on the Iraq war, could yet be vindicated.

    After all the controversy over the Government's earlier claims about Saddam's weapons, Mr Blair is being deliberately cautious in public. However, he will leave for a family holiday in Barbados considerably reassured.

    Solid evidence was being uncovered, but would not be made public hastily, until the teams had "solid proof", Mr Kay added. However, he predicted that public patience would be rewarded.

    I hope Mr. Blair has a wonderful family holiday

  8. by   roxannekkb
    Blair is known as "Bush's poodle" if that gives you any idea of what the British think about the Bush/Blair relationship. Bush the master, Blair the faithful dog. Woof!
  9. by   Mkue
    Bush's Poodle?
    The plight of Tony Blair--and American Democrats

    Equally, Bush has debts to Blair, and the president can't be comfortable that he owes them to a foreign leader who freely acknowledges taking counsel from Bill Clinton throughout the Iraq War. Clinton saw the importance of having a Blair Democrat position; he also saw that Bush would have to make concessions to his British ally, and that this would provide the Democrats with crucial political cover. In short, Blair has become, if not a kingmaker in American politics, a very helpful source of political capital -- and it is up to the Democrats to use it.

    entire article:

    Interesting commentary by
    Will Hutton, one of Britain's leading commentators on British, European and international politics.
  10. by   roxannekkb
    Originally posted by mkue
    Bush's Poodle?
    Yes, Bush's poodle. I didn't make it up. That's how the relationship is viewed in the UK.

    What I do find rather strange is that our great ally in the Iraq war, Tony Blair, pulled out nearly all of his troops. Out of 45,000, there's only about 10,000 British soldiers left.

    While I have disagreed with this war, it does feel that the British have basically abandoned us, considering that the war is not really over, and that much needs to be done now. And considering Blair's enthusiasm over going to war in Iraq, I am surprised that there are virtually no comments about this in the news. We are in dire need of help in Iraq, and the UK had a big role in this, so why is Blair shirking his responsibility? Is he just upset because British companies didn't get reconstruction contracts? Was that part of the deal, and Bush reneged? So is Blair then getting even by leaving us virtually alone in Iraq?

    We sure could use those 30,000 British soldiers! Then some of ours can get to go home finally.