Blair, Labour’s win not so Clinton-esque

The people of Great Britain last Thursday elected Tony Blair prime minister by voting his Labour Party into power with a huge majority. The union-backed, traditionally liberal party will be running the government for the first time in 18 years with a large mandate and the numbers in the House of Commons to carry it out. Yet many believe that policy will not change very much. Critics charge that Blair led his party to victory by abandoning Labour’s traditional stands for a moderate, non-controversial plank that promises small, gradual change. Blair has been compared to President Bill Clinton in both his campaign style and political philosophy. Although this comparison is apt in many ways, the British and U.S. political systems differ sufficiently enough to warrant a re-examination of this assumption.
Labour’s victory was indeed stunning. The party now holds 419 of the House of Commons’ 659 seats, the largest majority in more than 150 years. The new Parliament differs in other ways, too. There are almost three times more women in the governing body now than there were a week ago. Labour has also shown itself to be remarkably cohesive during the campaign, a welcome contrast to the bickering, infighting and scandal that have torn apart John Major’s Tory government during the past year. Blair is a refreshing figure in British politics. He’s a young family man with young children, a regular churchgoer, and he was a successful lawyer before entering politics. Like Clinton, he was educated at Oxford and has a flair for music.
To win, Blair did indeed adopt many of Clinton’s techniques. In fact, he brought Clinton’s pollster from the United States to advise his campaign. He also followed Clinton politically, adopting a small but workable platform of ideas that are popular but don’t threaten the status quo. He steered Labour away from socialism and embraced free market ideals. But Blair is not Clinton, and Britain is not the United States. Blair’s “liberal” Labour platform is much more socially leftist than anything the Democrats could have gotten away with, whereas his position on moral issues would resonate with many right-wingers in America. Blair wants to reinvigorate national health care and public education, but he also wants to introduce a strong moral dimension for young people. He believes that family values must be re-introduced into the British political landscape.
Furthermore, Blair favors a decentralization of government power as opposed to the conservative Tories. He has promised independent parliaments for Scotland and Wales that could take over many national government duties in those regions. He is also expected to deal cautiously with the European Economic Community, especially with the single currency issue. Despite the euphoria in much of Britain about the political changes, Labour’s honeymoon will be short. Blair will be expected to act quickly on his agenda and soon will face complex negotiations about the EEC. If he stays true to his promise not to raise taxes, he’ll have to find ways to do all this with limited resources, even while the strong British economy seems to necessitate the raising of interest rates. Britain will experience change under Labour, but the realities of modern politics will lessen their scope.