Even if Labour Wins, Blair Faces Battle
By ED JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 29
Tony Blair is favored to win a third term in
Thursday's elections � but his ability to survive for
long as prime minister will rest on the margin of
victory by the Labour Party, which includes strong
opponents of his
Iraq war policy.
If Blair's now solid lead in the House of Commons
slips, he could face a struggle to control those in
his party who are disillusioned with him, not only
over the war but over economic policies they consider
too conservative. Senior members might then challenge
him for leadership.
"The election has become a referendum on Blair, and a
small margin will be viewed as a negative, showing him
the door," said Bill Jones, a political analyst at
The unhappiness showed up Tuesday when families of
some British soldiers killed in Iraq marched on
Blair's office to demand a public inquiry into the
legality of the war.
A voter angry about the war also challenged the prime
minister at one of his campaign stops. Blair repeated
his position that it was a difficult decision to send
troops to Iraq, but he did what he felt was right.
"I think what you have got to ask yourself in the end
is ... what is going to determine the future of this
country, and I believe it is the economy, the health
service and schools and law and order," he said.
Blair revitalized his party and led it to landslide
election victories in 1997 and 2001 after 17 years of
Conservative Party rule, and he held a huge majority
in the just dissolved House of Commons � about 150
seats more than the combined opposition in the
Few analysts expect another landslide, so the question
has turned to how far Labour could fall.
A majority of 100 for Labour would be comfortable,
said Phil Cowley, a political analyst at Nottingham
University. But at results below that, it will become
increasingly tougher to control a rebellious group of
some 50 Labour legislators who have persistently voted
against the government's policies.
Many of those are angry about Britain's involvement in
Iraq, as are other Labour members who felt compelled
to support Blair on the war. Many of the rebels also
are unhappy that Blair dumped much of the party's
socialist ethos and feel he is aping the free market
policies championed by former Conservative Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Blair's government only narrowly defeated Labour
revolts in the last parliament, including the crucial
vote to go to war in Iraq and legislation to introduce
tuition fees for university students, allow more
private funding for state-run hospitals and toughen
With a smaller majority, Blair could find himself
losing votes in the Commons � throwing his future as
Labour leader and prime minister into doubt.
"Between 80 and 100, Blair has a cushion, but falling
below that it will be awkward and embarrassing and he
will struggle to govern," Cowley said.
If Labour's majority slips to 40 or below, analysts
say Blair's days as prime minister would probably be
numbered, although governing would not be impossible.
Thatcher won with a majority of 43 in 1979. Her
successor, John Major, struggled along with a majority
of 21, which shrank toward zero at the end of his
five-year term in 1997.
But for Blair's lead to slip so drastically would be a
striking sign of unpopularity.
He has already announced he plans to step down after
serving another full term as prime minister � usually
four or five years. But a weakened majority could
bring a leadership challenge sooner.
Treasury chief Gordon Brown, widely respected for his
stewardship of Britain's economy, is popular in the
party and considered a likely successor.
"The smaller the majority, the more vulnerable he will
be during the course of the Parliament to adverse
events or declining popularity," said John Curtice, a
political analyst at Strathclyde University.
Despite simmering anger over the war and general
grumbling about the 8-year-old government, most
analysts say Labour is assured a victory Thursday.
A MORI survey for the Financial Times published
Tuesday put Labour at 39 percent support among likely
voters, well ahead of the main opposition
Conservatives at 29 percent and the Liberal Democrats,
the only major party to oppose the war, at 22 percent.
"If money talks, then the Labour Party is past the
post already," said Simon Clare, spokesman for the
Coral betting shops, which rate a Tory victory as a
20-1 long shot.