Britain: Can Blair see out a third term?

Tony Blair has announced that he will go on to serve out a third term as prime minister.

If it were just down to the Tories then he probably would.

"A fucking awful result" was how Tory Shadow Defence Secretary Nicholas Soames described his party’s result in the Hartlepool by-election.

The Tories were elbowed into a humiliating fourth place by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) – their worst by-election result since 1918. Then a Populus poll revealed what most people would have thought impossible – Michael Howard is even less popular than Iain Duncan Smith was when he was Tory leader!

So the Tories started their annual conference in Bournemouth in a pretty dismal mood. On the right, UKIP is threatening to "kill" them off, while the Liberal Democrats are picking up anti-Labour votes in urban areas.

The Financial Times was not far off the mark when it wrote that only an "insane optimist" would predict a Tory win at the next election. But at around 30% in the polls, they are not yet "dying" as UKIP MEP Kilroy-Silk said at his party’s conference last week.

Howard is coming under pressure from one wing of the party to shift rightwards to challenge UKIP on an anti-Europe, anti-immigration platform and shore up the Tories’ ’core’ vote. But the Tory ’modernisers’ know this would be electoral suicide. They want to win over disillusioned Labour voters by concentrating on public services. The problem they have is that the ’centre-right’ is becoming a very crowded place, with all three main parties supporting the same privatising agenda.

The Liberal Democrats cannot win a general election but they can inflict damage on both the Tories and New Labour. Many Tories feel that the battle to win the next election is already lost and that the main task now is to defend their position as the second party of big business against the challenge from the Liberal Democrats.

General election

However, even with such an ineffectual opposition, Blair could find himself in his £3.6 million retirement home sooner than he thinks.

The volatility of politics, with all mainstream capitalist parties deeply unpopular, means nothing can be absolutely certain, but a Labour win at the next election is the most likely outcome. Nevertheless, with millions of voters deserting New Labour, and most people thinking Blair out of touch and untrustworthy – New Labour could win with a drastically reduced majority, perhaps even a hung parliament.

As long as troops remain in Iraq, the war and occupation will continue to haunt Blair. An escalation of violence, in what has become an unwinnable war, could force Blair’s resignation – even before the next election.

If he survives until then he could face humiliating defeat in a referendum on the European Union Constitution. And a downturn in the US and world economy would be extremely damaging, nailing the myth that the British economy is different and can somehow insulate itself from world events.

Even before a downturn, Blair and Brown are stepping up their attacks on the public sector with civil servants preparing to strike against the massacre of over 100,000 jobs. The leaders of the ’Big Four’ unions, TGWU, GMB, UNISON and Amicus have been bribed by Blair and Brown’s vague promises of more ’worker friendly’ policies to keep their members in check in the run-up to an election. But discontent could still erupt this side of an election.

A third term New Labour government, under Blair or anyone else, would stick the boot even harder into the public sector, provoking mass unrest. This would shatter any remaining illusions that Labour could be reclaimed as a workers’ party, clearing the way for the building of a new party that could provide real opposition to New Labour.

Editorial from The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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October 2004