What a curious band of misfits running for Parliament across the pond! Apart from the various small parties known collectively as “Other” and polling at about seven percent, Britons tomorrow will have the option of voting for three bad choices.
The Liberal Democrats are a pathetic shadow of Gladstone’s Liberals crossbred over decades with various failed parties, styling themselves as “centrist” while in fact lying at the leftmost edge of public opinion on most issues. Despite being the only party that officially and unequivocally opposed the Iraq war from the start, the Lib-Dems can’t convince even most anti-war voters to trust them to govern.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, have a — dare I say it? — Kerryesque habit of obfuscation on their foreign policy views. They officially support the British presence in Iraq, and many of them, including party leader Michael Howard, voted for the war. But they’re happy to play it against Tony Blair, throwing the issue of faulty WMD intelligence into their litany of grievances centered around the theme of Blair’s dishonesty in all matters. Of course it makes little sense that Blair would say something he knew was false and then make a Herculean effort to make sure he’d be proven wrong — except in the realm of conspiracy-theory logic, where the fact that a given charge is farfetched is interpreted as a reason the perpetrator might expect to maintain plausible deniability, and is therefore evidence of the charge’s validity. (Indeed, as Adrian Wooldridge has documented, the British Right has its fair share of conspiracy-minded “Michael Moore Conservatives.”) And if Blair lied, doesn’t that make Michael Howard a dupe? Hardly a selling point for a wannabe-Prime Minister.
Then there’s Labour. This is Tony Blair’s last election as head of his party. Most Labourites are less than fond of Blair, and would be happy to replace him with his heir-apparent, Finance Minister Gordon Brown. Brown sports Blair’s faults — his undue affection for the European Union, his domestic leftism — without the pesky Atlanticism. Some Labour politicians are openly running on promises to replace, or at least “control,” the Prime Minister.
The prospect of a Brown-led government might be enough to convince Americans to root for the Tories. For all his faults, after all, Michael Howard has a pretty strong Atlanticist pedigree; he was once involved in the Atlantic Partnership, a forum for experts from either side of the ocean to discuss strengthening cooperation between Europe and the U.S. And the Conservatives would be much less inclined to join an EU bent on balancing American power.
One problem: Almost no one expects Labour to lose its majority. They are ahead in every poll, and even allowing for the historical tendency of the Tories to outperform their poll numbers, Labour is secure; the makeup of the British electoral map means the Conservative Party needs to outperform Labour at the polls by about six percentage points to achieve parity in Parliament. Labour could, however, see its current 160-seat majority shrink significantly, possibly to below 80 seats according to one analysis of polling in “marginals” (what we would call swing districts). That would be bad news, since the conventional wisdom is that the worse Labour does, the harder it will be for Tony Blair to survive. The thinking, writes John O’Sullivan, is that if “Blair’s majority falls below 60 seats, he could go within months; if it hovers between 60 and 120, then he might survive a year; only if it remains triumphantly above 120 will he be able to stay as prime minister for the duration of the parliament.”
Thus, an irony: The fate of Tony Blair, a true friend to America, depends on electing many MPs who are anything but. Very well, then: Go, Labour, go!