Guttenplan, D. D., The Nation
In the end, Tony Blair had nothing to fear but fear itself. As the Labour Party assembled for its annual conference here on Britain's Yiddish Riviera, the news looked grim. The final days of the Hutton Inquiry revealed that Blair had not only taken the country to war on the basis of "sexed-up" intelligence about the Iraqi threat, he had done so despite intelligence warnings that a war with Iraq might actually increase the danger of terrorist attacks. Leaks from the Iraq Survey Group made it clear that none of the weapons Blair cited in his speech to Parliament last year had been found. And in the Brent East by-election, where a safe Labour majority of 13,000 votes in the last election simply evaporated this September in the face of a Liberal Democrat challenger who emphasized her party's opposition to the war, the handwriting on the wall couldn't have been much plainer.
Yet the Tony Blair who spoke here barely even paid lip service to the damage done to his own--and his party's--credibility by the war. "I know many people are disappointed, hurt, angry," he told the delegates, but though Blair felt their pain, "I would take the same action again." Aside from a passing reference to "the whole murky trade in WMD," the closest Blair came to explaining why was an admission that "it's not so much American unilateralism I fear. It's isolation. It's walking away when we need to get America there engaged." Given the Prime Minister's perfunctory nods at climate change and his commitment to "staying with" American policy on the Middle East, Blair doesn't seem to expect his policy of constructive engagement with the Bush Administration to bear fruit anytime soon.
What Blair does expect, with a certainty that would be unpardonably arrogant were there any realistic prospect of disappointment, is "a full third term" in power. As he reminded the delegates, Blair is the first Labour Prime Minister ever to reach six and a half continuous years in office. Describing past Labour government as "a spasmodic interval punctuating otherwise unbroken Conservative rule," Blair warned that he is in no mood for self-criticism: "I can only go one way. I've not got a reverse gear." The terms of Blair's bargain couldn't be plainer: Stick with me, and you will remain in power through the end of the decade, or take your chances without me. Only a day earlier Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer and the only plausible rival for party leadership, delivered a rousing call for a return to old-time "Labour values," which prompted a two-minute standing ovation. …