Why Labour will win but Blair will ultimately lose

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 May, 2005, 12:00am

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been dogged by the war on Iraq throughout his election campaign, just as his close ally George W. Bush was in the US last year. The enduring controversy is, however, unlikely to stop Mr Blair securing a third consecutive victory when Britons go to the polls today.

Opinion polls suggest a comfortable victory for the Labour Party leader, even though public trust in him has been severely damaged by the war. He is set to replicate the re-election of Mr Bush as US president last year. But the political dynamics are very different.

The Iraqi war has, from the outset, been unpopular with the British people. Their discontent has grown with each new scandal over Mr Blair's decision to send British troops into action without the backing of the United Nations.

Recent leaks to the media have suggested that decision was taken many months before the invasion and that Mr Blair lied about the advice given by his attorney-general on the legality of the war.

Two days before the election, the wife of the latest British soldier to die in Iraq - the 83rd - blamed the prime minister for his death. Relatives of other servicemen killed in action have threatened legal action if a public inquiry into the war is not called.

None of this has, however, made much of a dent in the prospects of Mr Blair winning another election victory. Polls suggest his party is likely to be returned with a sizeable - but reduced - majority of seats in Parliament.

This is due partly to the strength of the British economy, which is usually the decisive factor at the ballot box. Britain is enjoying continued growth, low unemployment and low interest rates.

The weakness of the opposition is also a key factor. The Conservative Party is a long way from bringing back the glory years under Margaret Thatcher. It is still trying to recover from two heavy election defeats in 1997 and 2001. Even the hiring of an Australian spin doctor to focus the party's campaign on certain core issues - lower taxes, getting tough on immigration and combating crime - does not appear to have worked.

Many voters will be hoping that Mr Blair will soon step down in favour of his popular finance chief, Gordon Brown, who is trusted more. There have long been rumours of a secret deal which will allow Mr Brown to take the helm.

There is still an outside chance of an upset. Mr Blair is worried that a low turnout, complacency among Labour voters and weakness in key marginal seats may cost him victory.

This is unlikely to happen. But Mr Blair may well find his huge majority cut down to size. A narrow victory would increase the pressure on the prime minister to hand over power to Mr Brown. The impact of the war in Iraq might, in this indirect way, be felt after all.