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Western Press Review: British Conservatives Lose 'With Dignity' -- And Finality

  • Don Hill



Prague, 2 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The sun long since has set on the British Empire, but yesterday a new day dawned in British politics. The U.S. press today calls yesterday's Labour Party win, in the words of one analyst, "a landslide victory of historic proportions."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: New leadership promises new dynamic Britain

William D. Montalbano writes: "Promising a just and dynamic new Britain, political modernizer Tony Blair led his restructured Labour Party to a landslide election victory of historic proportions." Montalbano says: "Blair (polled enough votes to) lead Britain into the new millennium."

The analyst adds: "Of small comfort to a party repeatedly scarred by the financial and sexual improprieties of some of its members was the Tory victory in London's tony (high-priced) Kensington and Chelsea. There, in the world's safest Conservative seat, voters elected infamous serial seducer Alan Clark, who once bedded the wife of a judge and both her daughters."

WASHINGTON POST: Labour Party takes pragmatic, centrist, and mutable approach

Fred Barbash writes in a news analysis that Prime Minister John Major and his British Conservatives knew they were losing but "watched in horror as seat after seat in the House, many of them considered safe for the party, went to Labour." Barbash says that Labour leader Tony Blair based his winning campaign not on the traditional tactics of the Labour Party, but on a pragmatic, centrist, and mutable approach to the issues.

Barbash writes: "Blair is one of the few leaders in Labour Party history with no trade union roots, no grounding in traditional socialism and no commitment to raise taxes for social programs. Instead, he spoke of the party's affinity for business, free enterprise and opportunity, his daily message always ending with the slogan 'Britain deserves better.' His single-minded mission was to distance Labour from what he called its 'outdated ideology' of high taxes financing extravagant government outlays, powerful unions and the discredited notion of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Without such a transformation, he said, the venerable old party, which has not won a general election since the year Richard M. Nixon resigned the U.S. presidency, would remain old and venerable, but not electable."

ATLANTA JOURNAL AND CONSTITUTION: Victory opens historic changes

Looking ahead to a Labour future, Louis J. Salome writes: "The victory opened the door to historic changes in Britain's political landscape, although the new, centrist Labour Party Blair has fashioned did not promise a radical change in the way Britain is governed or in its relations with its longtime close ally, the United States."

He says: "Under Prime Ministers Thatcher and Major, the Conservatives revolutionized Britain's government and economy. Their policies also widened the gap between rich and poor and weakened the National Health Service and the education system. Even Blair accepts part of the Conservative legacy. He vows not to overturn Tory policies that have worked, to adhere to Tory spending projections for two years, and not to raise the income tax rate for five years in order to counter fears that new Labour is nothing more than tax and spend old Labour in a new suit."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Conservatives' trouble not over

In a news analysis, Ray Mosely writes that the Conservatives' troubles -- rooted in part in ambivalence about European Union -- are not over. He says: "The civil war in the Conservative Party over Europe that contributed heavily to its electoral disaster now is expected to intensify, and the Conservatives may not be able to mount an effective opposition to Blair for many months."

Mosely adds: "Major pinned his hopes on the Conservative economic performance, boasting that his government has made Britain one of the most prosperous nations in Europe, with steady growth accompanied by low inflation and low interest rates. But economic growth was not evenly spread across the country, and the gap between rich and poor widened during the 18 years of Conservative rule."

THE BALTIMORE SUN: Blair moves in, Major moves out

A number of U.S. analysts displayed fascination with Britain's instant transition. Bill Glauber puts it this way in The Baltimore Sun: "Tony Blair moves into the prime minister's house at ten Downing Street this afternoon and gets all the problems he can handle. John Major leaves the residence in defeat. It takes Americans more than two months from election to inauguration. But Britain's brisk government transition -- filled with pomp and circumstance -- ends before this afternoon's rush-hour."

Glauber says: "And after 18 years out of power, Labour will have to hit the ground running, with high expectations and precious little cash to fulfill them. Blair's calendar is booked solid the next 100 days."

NEW YORK TIMES: Sure-footed campaigner may prove an effective leader

Editorials say that Blair was so cautiously ambiguous about key issues during the campaign that he became known as "Tony Blur." But The Times expresses hope for Blair's leadership. The newspaper says: "Victory won on such cautious terms has its price. If the economy eventually dips, it will probably be on Blair's watch. Having promised to reduce taxes and advanced so few concrete proposals, the Labourites can hardly claim a mandate for innovative government. By contrast, Britain's useful third party, the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown, proposed a 1 percent increase in taxes solely for education, the kind of investment Britain surely needs to remain competitive in a high-tech global economy.

"Still, having surprised doubters with his sure-footedness as a campaigner, Tony Blair may prove an effective leader in Downing Street. Within his party, he has shown impressive skill in building as well as expressing a fresh consensus. That is precisely the skill he needs if he is to restore hope and a cease-fire in Northern Ireland, realize greater self-rule in Scotland and Wales, and, above all, redefine British purposes and interests within a uniting Europe moving toward a single currency.

"Blair starts with a strong hand, including an unequivocal victory fairly won, and the world's friendly curiosity about the appealing new leader in the oldest of elective Parliaments."

In a news analysis, Warren Hoge writes: "While the vote represented a huge mandate for Blair and an endorsement of his leadership, it did not promise the kind of revolutionary change in the way Britain is governed that the election of Margaret Thatcher did in 1979, when she ushered in the years of Conservative rule. Her majority was only 44 seats, but her campaign had pledged a dramatic new direction for the country."
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