The Socialist 9 October 2004 |
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What We Think
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
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.
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.