- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Tomorrow, the British will be voting in their first parliamentary election since Labour leader Tony Blair routed the British Tories egregiously in 1997. Too bad that the Conservatives have not been able to mount anything resembling a credible challenge to Labour. With a bit of effort and better leadership on the right, Mr. Blair should have been vulnerable to a challenge. According to a Gallup poll, 61 percent agreed with the statement that "Labour isnt up to much, but the Tories dont offer a real alternative." Hardly a popular endorsement for either side. Even so, Labour leads the Tories by 15 to 20 points in the opinion surveys.
Conservatives elsewhere are on a roll, defying predictions that a Third Way political revolution was inevitable as some argued in the 1990s. George W. Bush brought Republicans back to power in the United States. In Mexico, President Vicente Fox came in on a conservative agenda. In Italy, the recent victory of Silvio Berlusconi has given Mr. Bush a potential ally (in addition to existing conservative governments in Austria and Spain). In Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has embraced a program of privatization and economic reform.
The Third Way was essentially the New Democrat way, and Bill Clinton was its primary standard-bearer. In Europe, he found philosophical soul mates in Mr. Blair and Germanys Gerhard Schroeder. Now, with Mr. Clinton out of the picture, disgraced at that, and Germany having reverted to a more typical social democratic model, there really isnt much left of the Third Way if ever there was much except rhetoric to begin with.
In Britain, Mr. Blair has managed to hold on basically because he wisely stayed away from tinkering with the economic policies of the Thatcher era, which brought the country economic growth and low unemployment of 6 percent (that is, low by European standards). Still, theres so much else to grumble about. The Labour government has devolved power to other parts of the United Kingdom to the point where the union between Scotland and England, which has lasted since 1707, is in danger. (One might add that despite prevailing anti-English Hollywood movies such as "The Patriot," it was an entirely voluntary union). Mr. Blair has botched plans to reform The House of Lords. In fact, the Britain that Americans love the Britain that gave us our language, political institutions, judicial system and a great many adorable BBC productions has seen a sad decline under "New Labour" with its Clintonesque touchy-feeliness. A defining moment of the early Blair era was the death of Princess Diana in 1997, which unleashed a wave of national hysteria. Stiff upper lips are definitely of the past. Quivering lower lips are in.
In his book, "The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana," author Peter Hitchens writes apocalyptically about the cultural revolution Mr. Blair has helped to foster. "Its effect on education, broadcasting, newspapers, customs and institutions has been so devastating that it is fair to compare it directly with Mao Zedongs concentrated effort to bury Chinas past, thirty years ago. The most important difference between the Chinese cultural revolution and the British one is that ours is still going on, long after China has altered and even reversed its attack on tradition and ancient customs."
Despite widespread dissatisfaction with Mr. Blairs assault on the British institutions, as well as with the declining state of the national health service, rail transportation and the public education system, the Conservative Party has not been able to launch a challenge since the devastating election defeat of John Major in 1997. Choosing William Hague as party leader in the wake of Mr. Majors rout, the Tories looked to a new generation, just as Labour had done so successfully. However, where Labour came up with the toothy and telegenic Tony Blair, the Tories handed party leadership to a man best known for his precocious performance as a 16-year old at the 1977 Conservative Party conference. Bald and baby-faced, Mr. Hagues main attraction seems to be his sharp tongue, which he has deployed to good effect against Mr. Blair in the prime ministers weekly question time. On an ideological level, he has failed utterly to heal the devastating rifts in the party over EU and euro membership, and he has failed to articulate a consistent or even coherent conservative vision to oppose that of Labour.
You just know that when the Financial Times, favorite reading of the business classes all over the world, endorses Labour, as it did yesterday, there is something seriously wrong. When the conservative The Times, breaking with literally centuries of precedent does the same, you know that disaster is just around the corner. (The Times started publication in 1785.) "For the first time in its history, The Times offers a cautious but clear endorsement of the Labour Party in this election," the paper wrote. Now it is just a question of how bad it is going to be.
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