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Western Press Review: Lively Elections--A Campaign Style New To Britons

Prague, 28 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Very peaceful weather often is described as the "lull before the storm," that period of strange quiet that precedes an onset of thunder, rain and unruly winds. According to William D. Montalbano in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, British elections used to be so dull, they "once were the lull before the lull."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Labor Party expected to overturn 18 years of Conservative rule

But not this year. Writing from London, Montalbano said in a news analysis: "The 1997 search for new government has been an articulate, sometimes zany spectacle long on style but short on substantive differences. Unless pollsters, pundits and parties are colossally wrong, Labor Party insurgent Tony Blair will win Thursday's election going away, overturning 18 years of rule by Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative heirs."

He wrote: "Smiling Blair wages a winner's campaign. He is careful to avoid mistakes and is polished and quick on his feet." The Los Angeles Times writer added: "The two candidates sell the same product but hail from different sides of the street. (Conservative Prime Minister) Major, leader of the political Establishment, is a shopkeeper's son who never went to college. Blair, representing what has always been a blue-collar party, is a lawyer who studied at Oxford. Blair reaches for middle-class votes. Major woos workers."

Other commentators this weekend find the current British election campaign entertaining but short on substance.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Labor Party headed for a landslide victory

In an analysis published this morning, Ray Mosely writes from London that the British press already has ceded victory to Blair and Labor. Mosely writes: "The Labor Party is headed for a landslide victory in Thursday's national election, and within the ruling Conservative Party a scramble already is getting under way for the succession to Prime Minister John Major as party leader. That was the conclusion of Britain's leading newspapers yesterday, based partly on poll findings that have demonstrated a resurgence of support for Labor in recent days."

He says: "The pro-Conservative Sunday Telegraph said the Conservative high command has admitted privately that victory is almost certainly beyond Major's grasp." He goes on: "The pro-Labor Observer, which conducted a special poll in constituencies in which the Conservatives hold power by only a narrow margin, said up to eight Conservative ministers could be defeated."

Mosely writes: "Newspapers said Major was under some pressure within his party to go to Brussels before the election and confront other European ministers to dramatize his party's skeptical view of moves toward European integration. But (Foreign Secretary Malcolm) Rifkind and other pro-European Conservatives were said to be opposed to such a tactic. The Sunday Telegraph said there was renewed speculation Major would resign as party leader within hours of a Conservative defeat, but some party leaders would try to persuade him to stay on for another three months."

POLITIKEN: British labor unions build a new image

In Denmark today, the daily newspaper carries an analysis by Henrik Munksgaard , who says that Tony Blair has launched a New Labor that "will end an 18-year-old declared and undeclared war between Whitehall and the British trade unions." Munksgaard says the British labor unions also have built themselves a new image.

He writes: "Now they favor a strong British participation in the European Union and a productive social dialogue between workers and employers in the German and Scandinavian fashion. The EU, in the opinion of the trade unions, is neither a Socialist scheme, as the conservatives allege, nor a bunch of capitalists, as the extreme left wing would have it. It is a pragmatic mix of the two strongest political movements in today's' Europe, the social democratic and the christian democratic."

The Danish analyst says: "There is no disagreement between Labor and the trade unions, a fact that adds to labor popularity and makes it a the winner in the elections."

BOSTON GLOBE: Conservatives use EU to head off the Labor Party onslaught

Elizabeth Neuffer asserts today that the British Conservatives are using the issue of European Union domination in their effort to head off the Labor Party onslaught. "It is a surprising tactic," she writes. "Polls indicate that Europe ranks low on the list of voters' concerns."

Neuffer says: "Beyond The Sunday Times (of London) front page, which predicts an election landslide for the Labor Party, is one of the Conservative Party's last-ditch efforts to woo British voters. The inside full-page ad features a headline, 'The Single Currency', and a massive X through it. The ad urges voters to cast their ballots Thursday for the Conservative Party of John Major -- and to stop Britain from becoming a part of 'a federal Europe.' "

Neuffer's analysis continues: "As the fight for British voters heads into its final week, it is the question of Britain's relationship to Europe -- not education, not tax policy -- that has dominated campaigning as governing Conservatives desperately try to gain the lead." She says: "And Labor, while disagreeing that Conservatives will win on the issue, say the debate has underscored that Britain's stance on European integration is one of the most vital -- and pressing -- issues the new government will face."

HOUSTON CHRONICLE: Conservatism vs. liberalism

Cragg Hines yesterday drew parallels between the Conservative and Labor Parties of the British campaign and the Republican and Democratic Parties of Bill Clinton's victorious 1996 U.S. campaign. He said both sets of rivals pitted moribund and vision-deprived conservatism, against resurgent, but muted, liberalism. Hines wrote: "Does this sound familiar? A conservative party holds national power for years, led first by a strong-willed firebrand, then by a less ideological successor who disdains 'the vision thing.' The rival liberal party is taken over by a charismatic young man of a new generation who conquers his compatriots' left-leaning tendencies."

The writer said: "Blair seemingly has charmed the public with an upbeat 'Britain deserves better' campaign that sounds very similar to the early Clinton revivalist pitch. The likeness is no coincidence."

He commented: "To contrast himself with past big-spending Labor leaders, Blair has promised not to increase the basic tax rate during the next Parliament, which can last up to five years. Although their own recent past on the issue is checkered, Conservatives contend the promise is gimmicky and argue that there is a black hole in Labor's proposed budget that would require new tax revenues to finance."