It's late April and the British Labour party are almost certain to win the next British general election. It has become not a case of 'if', but rather of 'by how much'. Browse through the 50 top achievements of Tony Blair's outgoing government, as listed by themselves and you are faced with an impressive picture of economic growth and public service management. Had things gone differently, perhaps the ushering in of Iraqi 'democracy' would have been trumpeted. It is conspicuously absent from the list of achievements, as indeed is foreign policy in general (apart from doubling the overseas aid budget and the Good Friday peace agreement, ranked at #22 and #29 respectively). Strange, considering how much attention Tony Blair has given to Foreign policy, and in turn how much the public perception of his premiership has been coloured by it, both positively and negatively.
While the Labour party would like to define itself in terms of its economic record and changes in British society that it has ushered in, according to John Kampfner, the political Editor of The New Statesman and author of the groundbreaking and controversial book Blair's Wars, one issue, that of the war in Iraq, will overshadow the current administration: &ldquoI think it will overshadow assessment of his premiership in general, which I think is a tragedy. It's a tragedy for Labour. He was the one who made Labour electable again, so a criticism of Blair, while strongly felt, is tempered by a sense of sadness that he allowed the combination of naivety and hubris to get the better of him, and to lead Britain into a flawed war and cul-de-sac.”
The election campaign so far may have been fought on issues like crime and the economy, but it would seem, at the time of writing, that the Liberal Democrats are about to change direction and incorporate a stinging criticism of the government’s handling of Iraq into its electoral strategy [Editor’s note:In fact both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have both focussed their campaigns on the publication of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith’s legal advice on the war]. Increasingly the war in Iraq, and more importantly Tony Blair's role in building the argument for war, is being seen as an issue. It's an issue that is unlikely to topple the government, primarily because there is no credible alternative to a Labour government. Stalwart Labour supporters, like musician Billy Bragg, sum up a widely held attitude saying &ldquoI was very disappointed about Iraq, about the whole cosying up to the Bush administration but the election isn't going to be about the war, it's going to be about whether or not you want Michael Howard to be Prime Minister, and I really don't want him to be Prime Minister”.
So, it would seem that a Labour victory will be more thanks to Michael Howard than the dynamic former election winner Tony Blair. Kampfner suggests that the imminent victory &ldquowill be seen as a Labour victory despite rather than because of Tony Blair”.
Lending weight to this theory is a less than scientific but nonetheless illuminating survey by The Guardian, that shows Tony Blair, ever present in Conservative and Liberal Democrats campaigning literature, remains absent in his own party's candidates literature, even in his own Islington constituency.