The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, September 29, 2003  

Tony Blair Borrows a Page From The Master’s Playbook

All is not well for U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a poll conducted late last week, 64 percent of respondents said they do not trust him and nearly half, 48 percent, said he should resign. Most of the public’s displeasure is apparently the result of Prime Minister Blair’s eager insistence upon participating in the U.S. war on Iraq and continued concerns that intelligence reports were “sexed up” to justify the invasion.

Speaking with the BBC prior to the opening of the Labour Party’s annual convention, which began today, Prime Minister Blair continued to defend his decision. “I don’t accept it was wrong at all. We know perfectly well he had these weapons, he had these programs,” Blair said. “I think we did the right thing in removing Saddam Hussein.” He added, “I’m proud of what we have done. We were getting rid of one of the most terrible, repressive regimes in the world’s history.”

Prime Minister Blair’s Labour Party critics were reported to be ready to pounce on the issue during the Bournemouth gathering. But in a surprise move, borrowed from the Bush administration’s dog-eared playbook, Britain’s participation in the war, and the decisions leading up to that point, are unlikely to be debated or voted upon at the party conference. Working in tandem with four large unions, Prime Minister Blair succeeded in stifling the party debate, limiting the official polling of conferees to four issues -- manufacturing, pensions, employment rights, and health -- according to a report in The Guardian. Union pressure on party members left the matter of Iraq as the fifth, and thus not-to-be-attended-to, item on the agenda. There are things we musn’t talk about, dear.

Needless to say, anti-war Labourites are displeased. The Guardian reports:

To the dismay of anti-war critics, who blame Mr. Blair’s mishandling of the crisis for the collapse of public support for his government, that means there will be no vote on Iraq this week.

It will guarantee the trade unions their chance to inflict defeats on the government over domestic issues, but embarrassing as this will be, Blair aides know that a resounding defeat on Iraq would have echoed round the world.

Anti-war protesters claimed the system was fixed to exclude the concerns of ordinary members.

Mrs. Mahon [Alice Mahon, M.P., Halifax] said: “It is quite outrageous that they have managed conference in this way, the fact that they have manipulated and manoeuvred [sic] the agenda so they are not going to give us a formal debate.”

Veteran ex-Labour M.P. Tony Benn called the decision a “major scandal.”

Christine Shawcroft, a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Council, said that while the subject of Iraq received the backing of only 21.5% of the conference, that did not reflect the strength of feeling in local constituencies.

A spokesman for the Rail Maritime and Transport Union, which wanted the conference to discuss the justification for the war, said: “Iraq is . . . a defining moment in history yet the Labour party managers have so far managed to keep it off the agenda, which is absolutely absurd.” […]

[T]he former health secretary, Frank Dobson, spoke for many when he said that Mr. Blair’s main asset, his ability to speak to the wider public, has gone. “We are about as popular as the Tory party led by Iain Duncan Smith and you can’t get much worse than that.”

Oh yes you can. Trust me, you really can. From way over here this looks pretty bad, and worse for Prime Minister Blair than for the Labour Party itself, given that the Conservative Party continues to act like the Keystone Kops of European politics. With the prognosis for the occupation forces in Iraq getting worse or certainly no better with each passing day, it’s hard to see how Prime Minister Blair can remain in office much longer. Such a shame.

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