One of Tony Blair's problems in leaving number 10 by next summer is that he has rented out his own house in London to the film director Michael Caton Jones (he directed 'Shooting Dogs', which I have already blogged about). The director isn't due to move until 2008. The Blairs will have to rent. I am amazed that nobody had done the sums before and worked out that that was when Tony was likely to quit.
New Labor has shot itself in the foot over the past week. It's astonishing to me that party activists have not recognized what has happened over the past decade. Blair has won three elections by adopting the policies of the Conservative Party. A strong pound, balanced budgets, income tax kept low, a robust foreign policy, support for America, Euroscepticism, continued privatization. In the meantime he has kept the socialists sweet by ploughing more and more money into the National Health Service and the state education system.
His natural supporters on the left have been unhappy because of surreptitious privatization of the the NHS. New building has been funded by the private sector and leased back by the NHS. This strategy has meant that the costs don't appear on the accounts as public borrowing requirements, but the cost is much greater in the long run, because goivernment can borrow much more cheaply than industry. On teh other hand the private sector won't stand for the petty obstructionism of the Unions. Recently a contract was awarded to DHL for the purchasing of all supplies in the health service, replacing the in-house service.
Similarly in education the private sector has been invited in, in a way that displeases the Unions. The constant drive towards privatization was one of Margaret Thatcher's big ideas and Blair has stepped into her mantle. She saw him as her true succesor.
What has really done for Blair has been Iraq. The impression is that the invasion of Iraq has been a failure. Had it been a success, the argument over whether it was legal would have dissipated. Just as in a football match people are only interested in the result, so in Iraq the result is the only thing that matters, not how we played or why we went there.
There is a substantial Muslim minority, in London especially, that is solidly against Tony Blair. They form a formidable rent-a-crowd to demonstrate in London against the government. Look carefully at that crowd and you will see that apart from Muslims it comprises the Socialist Workers party, communists, Trotskyites, the Public Sector Unions, sacked ministers, members of the LSD party (Liberal-Social Democrats) and animal libbers. An alliance of all the enemies that Blair has made with all his different policies.
In fact, Blair has a very good record at settling International disputes. In Northern Ireland his performance together with Bill Clinton (and not to forget John Major) has brought peace after 700 years of fighting. In the former Yugoslavia, he has ended the persecution of Muslims. In Sierra Leone a peace has broken out after a nasty civil war. The charge in Iraq is that lies were told about weapons of mass destruction to engineer an opportunity to finish the job begun in 1990. In fact, everybody in the world (and perhaps even Saddam himself) believed there wee weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In my view the removal of Saddam from power was entirely justifiable. Genocide is (or should be) a concern for the United Nations and defiance after many years of sanctions is itself justification for war. Had not members of the Security Council had reasons of their own for supporting the continuation of Saddam's tyranny, a coalition similar to that assembled by Bush senior would have invaded Iraq.
Look to who armed Saddam for the true culprits. No it wasn't the UK and the USA - it was Russia, France and China. If you remember there was a scandal over Reagan arming Iran.
Whatever, the rights and wrongs of the Iraq invasion, the forces are there now with a UN warrant. The current Iraq war is largely a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. It is certainly arguable that the US post-war strategy has been remiss, but who would put their hand up and say that they would like Saddam back?
There is also criticism of Blair over Afgfhanistan. 35 British troops have been killed there. The Nato force there is 10% below strength, largely because other European powers have not fulfilled their committment. Most of the deaths can be put down to equipment failure. The Ministry of Defence has a long record of buying the wron equipment, and seems to have erred again in the use of snatch Land Rovers, developed in Belfast, where they need a vehicle with more protection against RPGs and land mines. But for those who want the troops out, think on this: they are fighting against the Taliban, the very people who harbored Usama Bin Laden, the mastermine behind 9/11. Today is the 5th anniversary of that fateful day.
When Blair goes who will we get. Most likely, at least for a couple of years, Gordon Brown. That will not please the Socialist Workers party. Brown is the architect of New Labor's privatization policies. On Iraq and Afghanistan there is not a cigarette paper between him and Blair. He is more of a Eurosceptic than Blair; it was his prevarication that saved us from the Euro. He is a confirmed Atlanticist. Compared to Blair he is fatter and not so pretty. His smile seems more forced and he is Scottish. This may be important. Since Scottish devolution, the Scottish parliament has control over most Scottish domestic policy. English domestic policy - over health, education, prisons, the law, transport, housing etc is controlled by the British parliament, a body which includes Scottish MPs. The Scottish MPs can vote in favor of things that do not concern their own electors. English electors have no remedy. They cannot vote out of power people who control their destiny. It is barely tolerable to have MPs who do this - it was the fact that there are no conservatives
in Scotland that led to the demand for a Scottish Parliament - but to have a Prime Minister who cannot be censored by the elctorate cannot be tolerated. This is known as the West Lothian question and it has been simmering. It will start to boil over shortly.
At the next elction the Liberals will be only party opposing Iraq and Afghanistan. Their current stading in the opinion polls is 16%. The were also in the Times this morninig. It seems they want to make it compulsory for cyclists to have a bell on their bicycles.