Tony Blair alone bears the blame
The story of the night is the defection from Labour by those marching over to the Lib Dems—and some even to the Tories. Labour MPs never believed those opinion polls giving them an eight or 10 point lead.
What they found on the doorsteps was profound anger focused on the person of British Prime Minister Tony Blair himself.
Today, he alone bears the blame for this haemorrhage of seats.
Tony Blair tried to persuade himself that the Iraq war was a chattering class obsession, but it was everywhere, even among those who usually pay scant attention to foreign policy. It became the symbol and the icon for any disappointment or grievance with the government over the last eight years. It all came down on Tony Blair’s head.
At door after door, the voters said: “No, not Tony Blair”. Those who never followed the minute details of “who said what when” came to believe the war was wrong, the country was cheated and had been wrongly dragged against its will to fight United States President George Bush’s war on a false prospectus. This was a khaki election.
The man who once was the great architect of Labour’s rescue from 18 wilderness years is today the man who alone takes the blame for so many lost seats. He cannot long survive this, for he alone dragged his reluctant party to places they did not want to go—above all to Iraq.
However, this remains a social democratic country, just. This severe loss of Labour seats comes despite no great popular swing to the right. Smiling Tory victors glibly boasting of a turn in the political tide overstate the case. Many of the Tory wins come through accident of Britain’s disgraceful electoral system. Or at least at 2am, the story is of the popular vote holding up pretty well for the two left of centre parties.
But alas, as predicted and forewarned, protesters abandoning Labour for the Lib Dems over Iraq, reckless of what damage it might do, have delivered a swathe of Tory seats often without extra Tory votes. That wasteful old tribal split in the left between Labour and Lib Dem has delivered more seats for the Conservatives than they deserve.
Nonetheless, this is still Labour’s third great win with a majority that would have seemed handsome enough to previous Labour governments. When the votes are combined with the Lib Dems’ strongest showing since its alliance with the SDP in 1983, there is no major rightward shift. So that social democratic wind of change in 1997 was no temporary symptom of momentary Tory failure. It was still a rejection of conservatism, of the privatising, small state, anti-welfare individualism of the right and that remains the story.
Remember that not since 1910 has the Conservative party suffered three defeats in a row. Labour defectors to the Lib Dems have rescued the Tories from an outright hammering they deserved for a despicable campaign that stirred race hatred and knowingly falsified the facts to fuel fears on asylum and violent crime. The picture they painted of a country too dangerous to walk its streets, too dirty to enter its hospitals, too stupid to learn, was not, by and large, the country voters recognised. Abandoning the intellectual rightwing case left them naked with nothing but vacuous and toxic poster slogans. They helped increase the BNP vote by stirring race, but they were too populist for the people.
What now? Tony Blair cannot long survive this election. He will have to make plain very soon to Gordon Brown the precise time and manner of his going. Anyone who campaigned for Labour this time will know that they cannot go back on to the doorstep for the crucial local elections next May with Tony Blair still at the helm: they will get a far dustier answer. There is no chance at all that he could lead the country successfully through the coming EU referendum campaign. Those who wanted to give Tony Blair a bloody nose over Iraq may feel satisfaction at getting the much reduced Labour majority they thought he deserved. But in the cold light of day, as they were warned, the sight of new rows of Conservative MPs believing the wind is now in their sails does the politics of the country nothing but deep damage.
Yet in the end, the answer lies on the terrible road to Baghdad and the hubris of a man who thought he could persuade anyone of anything.
Labour cannot be allowed to forget the sour taste that everyone felt in this election campaign. Voters were angry, sceptical and bitter. Much of the campaign was tawdry, especially Labour’s opening bribes with slogans such as “Your family better off”. Patronised by politicians who promised goods for delivery, they were denied ideas to inspire and a common cause to join. The voters’ growing disconnection from political parties is a democratic danger that cannot continue.
Gordon Brown has been left with a weaker majority to tackle all the wicked issues this campaign never dared touch. What is to be done about global warming, the pensions deficit, nuclear power and nuclear weapons? Now the Tories have stirred the dark pond of racial strife, immigration is an issue that must be confronted.
What is Britain’s foreign policy now? Will this shock response to the ill-fated Iraqi adventure at last turn us away from the fantasy bridge across the Atlantic, the special relationship that has done us lasting harm over the last half century?
One last service Tony Blair could deliver. It was he who set up the Jenkins review of the electoral system, at the time genuinely persuaded of the need for a proportional system. This election has again shown the urgent need for reform, with a low turn out and angry voters denied any meaningful choice in parties to vote for. Under PR the parties of the left would be in a permanent coalition, instead of this pointless battle between parties with hardly a shred of difference between them. It looks as if it was this ancient rift that yet again delivered a perverse result, against the will and instincts of most voters. - Guardian Unlimited Â