Tony Blair has had a difficult four years as Britain's prime
minister. His ruling Labour party is confronting accusations of
misrule, corruption, and failure.
That's not usually the ideal time to call an election, but it's
exactly what Mr. Blair did on Tuesday.
The much-anticipated move drew an immediate response from
opposition leader William Hague: "We've got a government that will
not be so much asking for a second term as a second chance, and
what everyone will have to think about is can they afford to give
them a second chance."
Yet despite such rhetoric, virtually no one has any doubts about
the result of the June 7 vote. It is expected to seal Labour's
leading position at a time when the right is dominant in the United
States - the country with which Britain's electoral cycles usually
run in synch.
The deeper uncertainties about British politics all lie beyond
the election, and the real battles - over such issues as joining
the European Union single currency (the euro), taxes, state health
services, and education - may really start as soon as the polls
Opinion polls indicate less than half of voters with Mr. Hague's
own Conservative Party think he would make a better prime minister
than Blair. The only debate in the media, is over whether Labour's
margin will be crushing, or merely huge.
"Any dissent with the government is not reflected in support for
the opposition," says Michael Rush, professor of politics at the
University of Exeter.
Blair made the election announcement at a girls' school in
Southwark, a deprived inner-city area of South London. Earlier in
the day, he had driven from his official residence at 10 Downing
Street to Buckingham Palace, to ask the queen's permission to
dissolve Parliament and hold an election June 7, a date that had
been rumored for months.
After nearly two decades out of power, Labour swept landslide
1997 elections by moving itself to the center of British politics.
The Conservatives - in government since 1979, and the ruling
party for most of the 20th century - had become tired and
fractious, especially over the contentious issue of relations with
But there is little of that sense of triumph now among Labour
supporters. For some, the party has shifted too far to the right of
its traditional Socialist roots.
It has had to cope with a series of problems ranging from the
devastating foot-and-mouth livestock epidemic to the collapse of the
railway system, and attempts to blame everything on the preceding
Conservative regimes haven't held up well.
Several members of the government have become embroiled in
influence-peddling scandals, including Peter Mandelson, one of
Blair's key lieutenants. …