Polls show Blair in the lead - even after Iraq war

With a General Election in Britain on May 5th, Blair is still the favourite to win -

Polls promising for Britain's Blair
John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times
April 17, 2005 BLAIR0417

LONDON -- He led his country into a highly unpopular war, many voters say he's untrustworthy and some deride him as "Bush's poodle." Yet British Prime Minister Tony Blair is favored to do what no Labor Party leader has ever done: Win a third consecutive term in office.

What is Blair's secret? Maybe it is the ramshackle Conservative Party opposition that seldom goes through a week without shooting itself in the political foot. Or perhaps it is the fear that a vote for the third-party Liberal Democrats is, by definition, a wasted vote. To hear Blair and his loyalists tell it, it is the economy.

Blair visited Queen Elizabeth earlier this month and let her in on the country's worst-kept political secret: that the date for the country's general elections will be May 5.

That officially kicked off a frenetic campaign of dueling news conferences, crisscross travels and tabloid-headline skirmishes that, thankfully, in Britain lasts one month and no longer.

Articulate and still boyish at 51, Blair is a policy wonk with a passion for such high-minded causes as aiding Africa, advancing Middle East peace and curbing global warming.

Often compared to Bill Clinton, but with a spotless personal life, Blair's drawback may be that many people are simply weary of him after eight years, especially since many also suspect him of being just a little too glib and too willing to stretch a point for political expedience. Epithets applied to him by opponents have included "King of Spin,"Phony Tony," and "B.Liar," and nearly two-thirds of respondents in a recent YouGov poll say that his government has not been honest and trustworthy.

Nevertheless, the polls are promising for Labor, indicating the left-of-center party is maintaining a lead of between 4 and 8 percentage points over the Conservatives under Michael Howard. Charles Kennedy's Liberal Democrats, to the left of Labor on some issues, are coming on strong in third place.

The country has a first-past-the-post voting system that tends to give Labor an edge because it is stronger in more places, even with a narrow popular vote margin overall.

A big edge

Labor now has 408 seats in the 659-seat House of Commons, compared with 162 for the Conservatives and 55 for the Liberal Democrats. The betting is that Labor will surrender some of that massive edge but not enough to lose control of the chamber.

The Conservatives, whose party had been dominant in the country for the better part of two centuries, are gnashing their teeth that widespread disillusionment with Blair has not translated, so far, into a return of the electorate to the party of Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher.

One indication the Conservatives are in an identity crisis came this month when a party spokesman asked newspapers to stop calling them the Tories, a nickname at least 200 years old. Now, apparently, it is thought to conjure recollections of the divisive style of Margaret Thatcher or the "sleaze" under her successor, John Major.

Conservatives would prefer that voters focus on what they don't like about Blair.

"The one word that comes through on the doorstep is that people don't trust him," said the Conservatives' deputy leader, Michael Ancram. "Our job is not so much to prove to people that they can't trust him, because they know that already. It's to prove to people that they can trust us."

Facing his first general election as Conservative leader, Howard is a spirited debater but has yet to inspire the electorate. Blair chides him as being a man of the past. That Howard is 11 years older than him and served in Conservative governments in both the 1980s and '90s has made it easier to make the charge stick.

On multiple fronts

Perhaps to compensate, Howard has launched a barrage of challenges to Blair on taxation, spending, crime, immigration, government waste, a proposed European constitution, abortion, civil liberties and even political correctness.

His latest attacks have taken a populist tone: accusing Labor of being soft on the illegal caravan camps sometimes erected by Gypsies and other "travelers" on public lands and on "yobs," British slang for foul-mouthed drunkards who intimidate people or otherwise misbehave on the streets. His supporters also have slammed the Labor Party for alleged anti-Semitism, saying that a when-pigs-fly poster depicting Howard and another Conservative leader was offensive because both are Jewish.

So far, none of these tilts at the Labor Party has survived more than a few days in the headlines, amid what seems to be widespread voter apathy and cynicism.

Meanwhile, Howard has found himself mired in an embarrassing standoff with a fellow Conservative, Howard Flight, who was overheard saying the Conservatives plan more draconian cuts in government programs than they have let on. Fearing for his party's credibility, Howard moved to remove Flight from the party's parliamentary slate. Their ongoing row has only delighted Labor.

Clive Soley, a veteran Labor member of Parliament from west London, nevertheless warned against complacency. Some antiwar Labor voters will undoubtedly jump ship to the Liberal Democrats, who have strongly and consistently opposed the role of British troops in Iraq, or fail to vote, he said.

Elected in 1997, Blair has already surpassed Harold Wilson's record as the longest-serving Labor prime minister. If Blair completes a third five-year term, he would become the longest-serving prime minister in modern British history, outdoing Thatcher's 11 years in office.

Reverend Blair
Vote Liberal Democrat. The Conservatives want the days of Thatcher the Iron-Crotched Lady back. Labour has become pretty much like the Liberal Party here.

Besides, you guys need parliamentary reform at least as badly as we do. Third party politics is your best shot at that.

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