Sunday, May 08, 2005

In Five Minutes

A final note on the British election - Tim makes the case below that all sides should emerge from this relatively happy, but it could all be spun just as easily as a campaign that no one really won, either. Blair will find it difficult to implement any "legacy-building" reforms and the cries for him to hand over control to his Chancellor will only grow louder and louder. Howard has already announced his intention to resign, and so the Tories prepare to roll the dice in a rejuvenation process once again. Will they elevate a Margaret Thatcher, or an Iain Duncan-Smith? And Kennedy couldn't push the Liberal Democrats into truly groundbreaking territory, failing to capitalize on the ideal opportunity presented by vulnerable opponents. That chance will never come again.

Stepping back, though, and looking on the result with a "long eye" (as my friend Laura might say), let me predict that ultimately history will remember this as a simple, hard-earned victory for the Prime Minister. Overcoming the profound animosity of the electorate this time demonstrated the extent of his considerable political skill. He might have been a liability at the polls, but there is no denying his performance throughout the past mandate consistently wrong-footed Michael Howard and left the Tories with no hope of winning in the first place.

Has he surpassed even William Jefferson Clinton as the master politician of the age? I suppose we'll never know if the 1972 Dolphins would have beaten the 1985 Bears [no], of if a team of 5 Bobby Orrs could really beat a team of 5 Wayne Gretzkys by the score of 31 to 6 [maybe]. Similarly, "who'd win the election: Blair v. Clinton?" remains a tantalizing question for the pub.

My choice here would probably be Tony Blair. Why? This anecdote, from an off-hand Q&A with a reporter between election stops, explains it as well as any:

What difference would a tougher, more coherent Conservative party have made to his second term? “I think if the opposition was smart,” he offers, “they would be urging the government to go further rather than always opposing what it does for the sake of opposing it. That’s what I tried to do when I was leader of the opposition.”

Relaxing later in the back of his Jaguar he muses: “I could sort out the Tory party.”

Really, what would you do? He smiles as if that would be telling, but repeats: “I could sort it out in five minutes.”

Does anyone doubt that he could? Or that he'll win this showdown?

[Note: for those interested, the Sunday Times offers a few perspectives on how to reshape the Tories in five minutes or less here.]


Blogger The Tiger said...

Part of that, you know, is that Blair himself would not be all that out of place as a Tory. :-)

As for the showdown, I don't know. Parties have been known to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Whatever one can say about Jean Chretien's money management (fine, but with a tax for cronies :-)), he could win elections. The Liberals turfed him for someone whom I see as a very weak man. Ditto for the British Conservative Party and Margaret Thatcher -- she could win, but they didn't want her in the end.

I think that Labour will throw out Tony Blair -- and they will regret it.

I believe in the power of individual leaders -- and I think that political parties forget it at their peril.

5:18 PM  
Blogger The Tiger said...

Ok, read the full article. Maybe Blair will win the showdown this year -- probably. But he'll go earlier than he wants to, I believe.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Jason Cherniak said...

Blair will join the long line of distinguished British PMs who resign for "medical" reasons.

11:02 PM  
Blogger James MacDuff said...

I don't pretend that Blair isn't going to be forced to retire before he would ideally like to finish. That seems the fate of most powerful Parliamentary leaders (Thatcher, Chretien...) But the idea of him leaving as early as this month is simply ludicrous.

It wouldn't shock me if he goes out after delivering a surprising win in the referendum on the European Constitution, if it ever comes to a vote.

Perhaps the bigger question is whether Gordon Brown can overcome the successor's problem faced by Major and Martin. Time will tell.

3:56 AM  

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