Ricardo Israel Z. writes that neither the disaster of Iraq, nor the war in Afghanistan, nor his unconditional support of George W. Bush, can explain Tony Blair‘s nosedive fall from power. The reason that Tony Blair lost power –or better said, the reason his own party members wrested it from him– is because many are convinced that if Blair stays in power he will lead the British Labour Party to disaster in the next elections. In Israel Z.‘s opinion, what happened to Margaret Thatcher –who was forced to resign without having lost an election– could very likely happen to Tony Blair.
Ricardo Israel Z. is a lawyer and a political scientist. He has a PhD and a master’s in Political Science from the University of Essex and is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Chile. He is the Director of the International Center for Quality in Democracy and of the School of Juridical and Social Sciences at the Autónoma University of Chile. Israel Z. also presides over the Committee on Armed Forces and Society, which is a part of the World Association of Political Science.
THE LABOUR LEADER, ANTHONY BLAIR, WHO ASSUMED POWER IN 1997 and won three consecutive elections, is watching his political career go slowly down the tubes. The power is not being taken from him by his adversaries, but by his own party members.
The argument against Blair is not the disaster in Iraq, nor is it Afghanistan, where more British soldiers are dying. And Blair’s unconditional support of George W. Bush does not figure into the reason why legislators and civil servants in his government are trying to force his retirement.
Nor can terrorist attacks explain the massive internal crisis of his government.
TOWARDS ELECTORAL DISASTER
The argument against him has to do with the ABC’s of politics: a politician’s first duty is to himself and his own reelection. And many members of the Labour party are convinced that if Blair stays in power, he will lead the entire Labour party to electoral disaster.
And that’s just how it is: Labour leaders who opposed the War in Iraq in May of last year, but supported Blair because they were sure that they would be reelected, are now calling for his resignation.
But a year in politics is long, and so much water has passed under the bridge that the Conservatives, led by David Cameron, now appear to be the surefire winners of the next elections, given Labour’s loss of over 319 council members and 18 mayors. Even more so, despite holding a strong majority in Parliament, Blair has lost emblematic projects in the House of Commons.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Where and when will his fall begin? Blair’s announcement that he would resign within 12 months only sparked off more criticism. His authority is dropping on a daily basis.
As a leader, Blair modernized Labour via a forgotten and never explained third alternative, bringing the party closer to the market and distancing it from syndicalism. At the same time Blair was able to maintain a progressive vision to replace the socialist tradition.
But, in his announcement of resignation he forgot another basic principle of politics: there are always alternatives.
OVERWHELMED BY THE WAVE
Almost instantly, other options have begun to fill the void, beginning with the angry Gordon Brown, Blair’s eternal dauphin, who feels that Blair did not fulfill his promise to share the power.
And it was her own Conservative party that kicked her out, convinced that her hard stance on Europe would lead them to an electoral defeat. They were right, and John Major retained power for his party, in an almost easy victory, despite gross miscalculations in the polls.
Now history is repeating itself, thanks to tactical errors made by Blair. He should have known how to pull out in time, just as the wave was beginning to crest, not once it had already bowled him over.
THE APPEARANCE OF A THIRD PARTY
Everything began with a problem of dates. Blair, evidently, was hoping to keep himself in power for another decade and so make history. But now, the question for him has turned into how to leave power in an honorable, rather than a humiliating fashion.
But the moral of the story may include another political victim. Gordon Brown has been waiting so long for power that he may be surprised, in this scenario of anger and division, by a third party, determined to steal the votes. Ministers John Reid and Alan Jonson are two possibilities. Or maybe it will be someone else.
You never know, politics has always been full of surprises.