- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

After the last British election, the nickname-crazed George W. Bush took to calling Prime Minister Tony Blair “Landslide.” He might need an alternative term of endearment when Thursday’s vote is in. Mr. Blair will win the election but has lost the campaign, which ultimately will be more decisive.

If one were to outline the Bush administration’s preferences, they would run:

(1) A Blair victory: Ol’ Landslide was the president’s key sidekick in the Coalition of the Willing. And, even though Iraq hasn’t figured much in this campaign, a defeat for Mr. Blair would be seen as repudiation of the war like that of Spain.

(2) A Tory victory. On the other hand, even if Mr. Blair goes down, he would lose to the Conservative Party. And, though British Tories are not entirely comfortable with the evangelical cowboy aspects of this administration, a Conservative in Downing Street is still better news for Washington than that wacky antiwar Socialist who took over in Madrid.

Alas, Washington is likely to wind up with a third option: a Labor victory, but with a weakened Mr. Blair. Unlike U.S. presidents, British prime ministers aren’t elected to “terms.” The Parliament the voters choose on Thursday can sit for five years, but the prime minister could be gone in one or two or three. Mrs. Thatcher won her third election victory in 1987 but was bounced by her party in a grisly act of matricide after a turbulent few weeks in 1990. Maggie’s 11-year run was the longest since Lord Liverpool 200 years ago. It’s unlikely Tony Blair will hang around long enough to equal it. The main result of this election is that his designated successor, the more conventionally Laborite Gordon Brown, will take over sooner rather than later. That’s bad news for Washington.

On the other hand, for all the big-hearted Texan backslapping, the Bush-Blair chumminess has always been overstated. Dubya and Landslide agree on the war on terror, and that’s about it. On everything else — the U.N., Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, Iran’s nuclear program — Mr. Blair is all but indistinguishable from Jacques Chirac.

If Mr. Bush has a soulmate in the inner counsels of the Coalition of the Willing, it is John Howard in Australia. Mr. Howard is with Mr. Bush not just on the war but on all the other stuff, too. Indeed, the Aussie prime minister is publicly far blunter than Mr. Bush is on, say, the uselessness of the United Nations.

Mr. Blair’s is a cautionary tale. Unlike George W. Bush, who wanted to topple Saddam because he wanted to topple Saddam, Mr. Blair felt obliged to square it with his deference to progressive hooey like “international law,” so he framed the case against Saddam in technical legalistic terms such as the threat of Iraq to British bases in Cyprus, only 45 minutes away as the WMD fly. The narrow legalisms proved untrue, for which Mr. Blair has paid a much higher price than Mr. Bush.

There are millions of Americans who take the view there’s no bad reason to whack Saddam. So, even in the worst slough of his 2004 media despond, Mr. Bush retained the support of his party, Congress and half the American people. The British prime minister, by contrast, went to war with tepid support from his party, Parliament and people, and, despite winning the war, has lost support with all three in the two years since.

In particular, Mr. Blair’s own party — viscerally antiwar and mostly anti-American — loathes him. The most tortured moment in political interviews is when some Labor candidate is asked if he or she supports Mr. Blair and after a long pause replies through tight lips, as Yasmin Qureshi did this week, “He is the leader of the party at the moment.” Mr. Blair may be a global colossus but back home he’s the lonesomest gal in town.

The problem with the war on terror is that once it was framed as an existential struggle for Western civilization it was all too predictable that the left would act as it did the last time we had another one, the Cold War: Do its best to lose.

I feel rather sad about this. At one level, Tony Blair is an absurd figure: In the jurisdiction he is supposed to govern, the hospitals are decrepit and disease-ridden, crime is rampant in the leafiest and loveliest villages, urban politics fragments along racial and religious lines, and the Irish Republican Army has been transformed with the blessing of Mr. Blair’s ministers into the British Isles’ homegrown Russian mafia. But, in areas where he has no responsibility, Mr. Blair flies in and promises to cure all.

He is particularly keen on Africa: Genocide? Aids? Poverty? Don’t worry, Tony has the answer. He can’t make the British trains run on time, but he can save the world.

By the time this election was called, the British had fallen out of love with Tony Blair. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, they haven’t fallen in love with anybody else. But, in the artful way of highly evolved political systems, the electorate is doing its best to signal to the prime minister this Thursday’s “five-year mandate” is in fact one year’s notice.

As a matter of practical politics, the French referendum on the European Constitution later this month will be much more decisive than the U.K.’s own general election when it comes to determining how Britain is governed. If the French reject the ludicrous Euro-constitution, they’ll reject it for Britain too.

If they sign up for it, it will probably be a fait accompli for the British — and the final stage will be under way of the submersion of America’s closest ally in a European superstate increasingly hostile to Washington.

James Bennett has had great success in recent years promoting the concept of the “Anglosphere.” I’m all for it. L’Anglosphere, c’est moi, pardon my French. I divide my time, as the book jackets say, between Britain, America and Canada. Throw in Australia and New Zealand and you have the only countries on the right side of all three of the 20th century’s global conflicts. But Canada, being semi-French, is now a semidetached member of the Anglosphere.

And, after three decades of Euroregulation, the British are, alas, more European than some of us would like to admit. Mr. Blair has spent the last four years playing good cop to Mr. Bush’s bad cop in a global Anglospherist buddy act. His electors haven’t acquired a taste for it.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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