ONE FACTOR has been largely overlooked in the coverage of Bush’s election—Blair’s crucial role in securing him a second term.
“You tell Tony Blair we’re going alone,” was Bush’s stock response to criticisms that he had isolated the US internationally.
A BBC crew visited a bowling alley in Columbus, Ohio, to ask which way people had voted. “For Blair and Bush,” replied one man.
Bush certainly has reason to be grateful to Blair for the unflinching loyalty that smoothed the way for war and occupation.
Without Blair’s diplomatic and ideological back-up, the invasion of Iraq would have been even more starkly exposed as a unilateral act of aggression.
But though Bush is grateful to Blair, it’s doubtful Blair is grateful to Bush. A Kerry victory would have given Blair his best chance to “draw a line” under Iraq and signal a cosmetic change of direction.
Instead, Blair has to stand by his man for another four years. And his close relationship to the most loathed US president in history is a key factor behind his own personal unpopularity.
As Iraq sinks further into a Vietnam-style quagmire, the pressures on him will only increase.
When triangulation leads to strangulation
THE RECEIVED wisdom on the centre-left for a decade has been that to win elections you have to take votes from the centre right by stealing their policies.
First Bill Clinton and then Blair showed how this “triangulation” could be done. Bush’s victory throws this strategy into chaos.
By moving ever further to the right, centre-left parties demobilise their grassroots base. This leads to disaster once the right gets its act together, as Kerry found out to his cost.
The Democrat leadership, many European social democrats and some in New Labour blame support for gay marriage or abortion rights for Kerry’s defeat.
But the reason he lost was because the Republicans mobilised their support round a clear agenda. Kerry’s insipid message failed to turn out young voters, blacks and working class people.
Blair will likely win the next election because Michael Howard cannot revive the Tories and the Liberals cannot win sufficient Labour seats.
But if the right ever finds a British equivalent of Bush’s “moral issues”, New Labour will find itself in the same hole the Democrats are in. And chances are it won’t stop digging.
The Tricolore and the Stars and Stripes
FRENCH MILITARY forces sent out a sharp reminder this week that imperialist intervention is not the sole preserve of the US. French troops destroyed most of the air force of Ivory Coast in West Africa and also killed civilians.
There are about 6,000 French troops in Ivory Coast, which was a French colony until 1960.
They are there to defend profits in the world’s biggest cocoa producer, and to shore up strategic interests.
There is no need to support Ivory Coast’s government in order to recognise that the French intervention is as unacceptable as Bush’s in Iraq.