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Western Press Review: Britain Seems To Look To Labor

Prague, 1 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. press takes notice today that the British are holding an election. Relying on unrelenting poll results, commentators are accepting as a virtual fact of life that the Conservative Party will be turned out of office. It will be done, they say, by a Labor Party that -- in the style of U.S. President Bill Clinton's Democrats -- has moved right to usurp the policy center.

WASHINGTON POST: Labor is now 'the party of business'

Here's how Fred Barbash puts it in a news analysis today: "Britain's Conservative Party, in power longer than any other in Europe, is confronting what every poll says is the end of its 18-year run in office. If all goes as predicted in the general election (today), Prime Minister John Major and his belongings will be removed from 10 Downing Street after lunch (tomorrow) to make way for Tony Blair, the Labor Party leader, as the new prime minister.

"Thus, ingloriously, will end nearly two decades of Conservative government that transformed British life, in every nook and cranny, 'from the monarchy to the corner shop,' as the Guardian newspaper said (yesterday morning) when it endorsed Labor."

Barbash writes: "So profound has been the change here during the long Tory era that the Labor Party had to embrace much of it, including much that it once fought bitterly, to save itself from extinction. Over the past 18 years, Labor went from socialism to social democracy to the dead center. It is now, declares Blair, 'the party of business.' "

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: The election has attracted worldwide attention

Analyst Kenneth J. Garcia contends that the probable policy switchover has potential results with significance well beyond the borders of the British Isles. Garcia says: "The election has attracted worldwide attention, in large part due to Labor's resurgence after two decades of political futility. Reporters from more than 50 countries are on hand to cover the campaign, and tonight the leading news programs are expected to devote more than 10 hours to the ballot results. Exit polls from the key swing districts will probably give the first indication whether the surveys are correct, but no victor is expected to be declared until early (tomorrow)."

NEW YORK TIMES: Bookmakers refused bets because of the certainty of a Labor victory

In a news analysis, Warren Hoge asserts that the near-certain Labor triumph presages important shifts in Britain's policies. He writes: "Under Blair (Labor) has been profoundly transformed, abandoning its trade union, statist past and becoming a champion of entrepreneurship and individual enterprise. The goal of the project has always been to make Labor, a party that has never succeeded in holding office for more than one term, into an acceptable mainstream alternative to the Conservatives, who have governed Britain for 35 of the last 50 years. Blair has visibly gained confidence and stature in the last six weeks, and Major has seen his leadership undermined by members of Parliament caught in sexual and petty corruption episodes and candidates defying his 'wait and see' position on Britain's ties to Europe."

Hoge says: "In aping many of the Conservative positions on cherished initiatives of theirs like privatization of utilities, Labor has succeeded in stealing the Tories' most defensible campaign argument, stewardship of Britain's finances."

He concludes: "One indication of the calm with which a Labor victory is being anticipated is evident at the London stock market. Five years ago, a possible Kinnock victory took average prices down 17 percent. This year, with Labor far in the lead the whole campaign, stocks rose 9 percent. (Yesterday), the bookmakers William Hill refused to accept any further bets on the election, because of what it said was the certainty of a Labor victory. The last time the company closed its books on an election was in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher began the longest unbroken stretch of one-party rule in Britain this century."

HOUSTON CHRONICLE: Major pleaded with voters to resist the 'siren voice of change'

What Labor seems on the verge of accomplishing -- a rout of the Conservative administration at a height of British prosperity -- remains an odds-breaking feat, Cragg Hines points out in an analysis. He quotes even Tony Blair as conceding, "This is not a landslide country."

Hines writes: "Speaking to the Conservatives' final major rally Tuesday night, Major pleaded with voters to resist the 'siren voice of change.' But his hour-long address to 2,000 party faithful in London Arena sounded like a valedictory." Hines says: "Voters, however, appeared generally unmoved by his appeals. The five new polls show Labor leading from 10 to 22 percentage points."

The analysis continues: "The final result may hinge on undecided voters and 'tactical voting,' in which, for instance, a supporter of the third-party Liberal Democrats might vote for a Labor parliamentary candidate in an effort to defeat a Conservative." Hines writes: "Conservatives held out the hope that published polls were wrong, as many were on the eve of the last general election in 1992."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The scramble for Major's successor is already intense

In an analysis, Ray Mosely considers the immediate aftermath of a Labor win. He says: "If Labor wins, the handover of power will be brutally swift by American standards. In the United States, two months elapse between a presidential election and inauguration. In Britain, the gap is a few hours after the last votes are counted."

Mosely writes: "If Major does lose, he will have a choice of immediately resigning the party leadership or staying on long enough to allow for an orderly succession. Some Conservative officials hope he will agree to remain until Autumn, when the party normally holds its leadership contest. But there is a good argument for his going earlier, as the party will be torn by internal politicking until a new leader is named. The scramble for the succession already is intense."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Polls have been wrong in the past...

Of course, notes Fawn Vrazo: "polls here have been wrong in the past -- most notoriously in 1992, when they predicted John Major would lose." She writes: "Instead, Major and the Tories squeaked through with a 43 percent share of the vote -- versus 34 percent for Labor -- which gave the Conservatives a 21-seat majority in the House of Commons."

Vrazo writes: "To win, Labor needs at least a 4.3 percent swing of voters who went for the Conservatives in 1992," and adds: "This would be no small feat for Labor. Since 1945, according to a BBC election guide, Labor has never gotten better than a three percent swing from the Conservatives."