Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Blair's Reelection: Pyrrhic Victory? ; British Prime Minister Tony Blair Won a Third Term Thursday, but His Support Is Now Weaker Than Ever

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Blair's Reelection: Pyrrhic Victory? ; British Prime Minister Tony Blair Won a Third Term Thursday, but His Support Is Now Weaker Than Ever

Article excerpt

Britain may still be America's strongest ally and Europe's healthiest economy, but in the past few days its leader, Tony Blair, has gone from mighty to meek.

In dramatic elections Thursday, he became only the second prime minister in British history to win a third consecutive term in office. Only Conservative Party icon Margaret Thatcher before him had achieved such a feat.

But his feat was instantly dubbed a "joyless victory" as Mr. Blair's Labour Party took just 35 percent of the vote (Michael Howard's Conservatives won 32 percent; Charles Kennedy's Liberal Democrats got 22 percent). And its 161-seat majority in Parliament faded to 67 seats. All told, Labour is now governing with the lowest level of public support in modern British history.

The prime minister slunk back to No. 10 Downing Street promising to "listen and learn" while senior government figures called on him to step down, saying he had become a "liability."

With about 50 rebel members of his party ready to vote down the prime minister's more-controversial proposals, Britain's leader cuts a weak figure at home and his clout on the international stage is bound to diminish.

"From now on, [Blair] is on a leash," says Patrick Dunleavy, a professor of political science and public policy at the London School of Economics. "He will be constrained in anything he says, internationally and domestically."

"His authority is much reduced," says John Curtis, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde.

With Iraq considered the main reason for the decline in support for Labour, "the climate is such that it would be very very difficult for any British government to commit to another conflict," says Gillian Peele, a political scientist at Oxford University.

"George Bush still has a very close ally but he'll get a lot more cautious support," she adds.

Blair has pledged he will not run for a fourth term. …

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