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Western Press Review: Britain's John Major Bucks The Odds

  • Don Hill

Prague, 18 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The "Los Angeles Times" sums up Western commentary's conventional wisdom today in a ten-word headline over its London correspondent's report that the British would hold national elections May 1: "Major Announces May 1 Date For Election He May Lose."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Blair will become Britain's prime minister

In the following dispatch, correspondent William D. Montalbano writes: "The long-anticipated call to arms finally came on a brilliant spring morning. Standing with a jaunty smile in a pink shirt before the prime minister's front door at 10 Downing Street (yesterday), John Major invited Britain to a national election on May 1 that is expected to write his political epitaph." Montalbano writes: "If there are no more surprises in the campaign than there were surrounding the election announcement, Blair will become Britain's prime minister by mid-May."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Blair practices post-modern, supermarket politics

The paper carries today the following commentary by Josef Joffe: "Everyone has known it for weeks but now it is official: Britain will go to the polls on May 1. Prime Minister John Major has admitted what everyone has long known: that he probably will not win.

"The opposition Labor Party has a 25 point lead in the opinion polls. The popularity gap between the two biggest parties has never been so great this close to a general election. Now even dyed in the wool Tories doubt that their man will manage to be first past the post this time.

"All this would not merit any more comment, were it not for one peculiar factor: In Labor leader Tony Blair, the voters want to elect a politician whose wants and whose stands are unknown. Is he left or right? Neither one nor the other, but both. He prefers asking questions to giving answers. For instance: 'How can we create a new world of performance in Britain in which everyone, not just a few, can take part?' The part about performance was intended for the right in the audience, the part about equality for the left. Europe? His spokesman Joyce Quinn said during the last Konigswinter Conference on German-British affairs in Berlin: 'We don't want a European uber-state.' But she also said Labor wants to turn into a reality the dream of a Britain in Europe. The Euro? 'We see the advantages but we want to know more about the practical aspects.'

"This is postmodern politics, something for everyone. It is reminiscent of Bill Clinton and even Helmut Kohl. It is supermarket politics. Everyone can pick out what suits. And Clinton and Kohl have shown that it works. One has achieved reelection against the historical trend, the other has been in power since 1982. Welcome to Downing Street, Mr Blair."

WASHINGTON POST: Labor has copied Clinton's war room campaign technique

Writing from London today, Fred Barbash says Major's announcement kicks off "a formal campaign that is widely viewed here as the most Americanized in the country's history: longer, more expensive and more personality-oriented than ever." Barbash writes: "The convergence of campaign styles is no accident. British political operatives from both parties have gone to the United States to observe campaign techniques in recent years." He says: "Labor has copied the rapid-response war room technique perfected by the Clinton campaign in 1992."

BALTIMORE SUN: Britain's political establishment consistently underestimates Major

In a news analysis today, Bill Glauber writes from London: "The way British Prime Minister John Major apparently sees it, television and time are on his side in his battle to wipe away a wide poll deficit and win reelection against Labor and its leader Tony Blair."

Glauber says: "Down by as much as 25 percent in polls, in power for 18 years, the Conservatives are in big trouble. They've won four straight elections. But virtually no one outside their party leadership gives them a chance to win five. So, Major may be going for broke by breaking with precedent. A (proposed televised) debate (against Tony Blair) gives him a chance to dent Blair's image."

Glauber writes: "But Britain's political establishment has consistently underestimated Major's skills of survival ever since he succeeded Margaret Thatcher. He came from far back in the polls to stage an upset general election victory in 1992."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Britain is set for the most American-style campaign in its history

Ray Mosely says in an analysis in today's edition: "Five years ago, Prime Minister John Major sent Conservative Party strategists to Washington to advise the Republicans on how to defeat Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton. That monumental miscalculation led to a distinctly cool relationship between President Clinton and Major that lasted several months. Since then, officials of Britain's opposition Labor Party, which has been languishing in the political wilderness for the last 18 years, have traveled to Washington on several occasions to consult the Democrats on the secrets of Clinton's two electoral successes.

"All that has set the stage for what promises to be the most American-style political campaign in British history. Major launched the contest Monday, as expected, by setting May 1 as the election date and then dashing off to the hinterlands for his first campaign speech."

NEW YORK TIMES: Economic indicators have risen, but the popularity of the Conservatives has declined

The paper carries today a news analysis by William Hoge contending that Major's acceptance of a Blair debate challenge "appeared to signal the Conservatives' (American-style) presidential strategy of putting forward the 53-year-old prime minister himself as the quarrelsome party's greatest asset."

Hoge writes: "The party hopes that Major's rumpled cardigan-sweatered folksiness will compare favorably with the flashier and more youthful image of his 43-year-old opponent that has been polished to a high gleam by his marketing-oriented handlers."

He adds: "Major had waited until the last possible moment in the hope that voters would start to credit the Tories for the significant economic recovery that Britain has experienced since 1992. While the economic indicators have continued to rise, however, the popularity of the Conservatives, beset by internal bickering, has continued to decline."

ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Blair has transformed Labor into a moderate, centrist party

Louis J. Salome writes in a news analysis today: "The telegenic Blair has turned Labor away from its traditional leftist, union and worker roots and transformed it into a moderate, centrist party that is appealing to Britain's middle class. Political analysts say it is similar to what Bill Clinton helped achieve with the Democratic Party during the early 1990s."