Why Britain Booted Blair
Why did Tony Blair leave? After serving for a full decade as Britain’s prime minister—the most successful Labor leader ever—his party, and his people, wanted him gone.
Why? He gave the British much of what they wanted. Economic growth has made Britons wealthier; poorer families now have higher wages and lower taxes; schools and hospitals have been modernized. Steps toward dismantling Great Britain have pleased the majority of Brits: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all moved toward greater self-governance under Blair’s leadership. The Labor leader helped focus international attention on global warming more than any other Western leader—another issue that plays well to the increasingly liberal British public. The flow of immigrants into Britain has grown much swifter as a result of Blair pushing for greater openness. The former pm has also made good on his pledge to “modernize” his country, passing social reforms such as the recognition of civil partnerships for homosexuals.
Conservatives balk at some of these changes, but the average Brit sees only positives in them. It isn’t for any of these reasons that Blair became unpopular among his fellow countrymen, allowing his political opponents an opportunity to muscle him out of office. What really irritated them—to the point that he became vulnerable to pressure to step down in the midst of his weak third term as prime minister—is almost exclusively one thing: his support for the war in Iraq.
The majority view was that Blair rode around in the hip pocket of the widely hated U.S. President George W. Bush. Polls reveal that Britons believe by a 2 to 1 margin that Britain’s alliance with the United States is too close. The former prime minister was referred to as “Bush’s poodle” and pummeled for committing British troops to the Iraq war. He lost tremendous public trust over the question of wmd in Iraq. In addition, Blair was roundly criticized for his too-firm backing of the State of Israel. A majority of Britons hunger for a leader with more inward-looking tendencies and who is more independent of the U.S. in foreign policy.
The new prime minister is probably not that leader. Gordon Brown, the man who took over when Blair stepped down June 27, took office not by public vote, but by virtue of the ruling Labor Party elevating him to its chief position—and the fact is, he is widely viewed as being not terribly different from Tony Blair.
Think tank Stratfor sees Brown’s term as mostly inconsequential. In a May 9 report, Stratfor wrote, “Brown is entering office already paralyzed—not that he would want to make sweeping changes before the next election, in early 2009. Brown’s term will begin with Iraq still on his plate, a vast shift beginning in Europe, a housing crisis looming and his party divided. Brown will not be able to do much in the international arena; the United Kingdom is already starting to pull out of Iraq. … Brown will simply keep the country together in front of the camera.”
On balance, and barring unforeseen catastrophes, the Trumpet doesn’t expect the direction Britain has been moving to change very drastically under Brown’s leadership. However, there are two areas we feel worthy of watching based on what we know of Gordon Brown.
Stance on Terrorism
Though Brown has publicly expressed a desire to maintain the U.S.-British alliance and continue Britain’s support of the fight against terrorism, strong public pressure seems to be adversely affecting his resolve on these issues. His enigmatic statements on the war reflect the bind in which he finds himself: They are political, measured, lacking substance—eschewing firm policy statements for more whispery platitudes about the difficulty of the situation and promises to look into it.
Though some reports say the White House is convinced Brown won’t push for a precipitous withdrawal of British support from the Iraq and Afghanistan missions, other sources say precisely the opposite. The Sunday Telegraph reported May 20 that White House officials told President Bush to expect an announcement from Brown of a British pullout within 100 days of his taking office. The paper reported that senior officials are worried, quoting one as saying, “There is a sense of foreboding.”
Among the antiwar British press and public, of course, that foreboding is more like optimism. Labor Party official Trevor Owen said, “I think we may well see a more rapid removal of troops (from Iraq) than we would have seen before” (Reuters, May 20). Like Blair before him, Brown has pledged to reduce troop numbers when possible—but he may well shift the timetable forward.
Whatever the specifics, we can be sure that a Brown-led Britain will by no means become more determined to wage war on terrorism. It is far likelier that we have already seen the strongest days of the U.S.-British anti-terror alliance and British support for fighting Islamist extremism.
Brown’s public reaction to the attempted terror attacks in the first days of his tenure—failed car bombings in London and Glasgow—certainly indicated an even less aggressive stance on terrorism within the UK. The new pm was in fact praised—specifically by Muslim organizations—for his contrasting approach to Blair’s. Brown has determined to eliminate both the word “Muslim” and the term “war on terror” from his vocabulary. One of his spokesmen said the new pm was modifying his language to encourage a “strong consensual approach in relation to all the communities” (Washington Post, July 4). Do not, therefore, expect Brown to be tougher in facing down that threat than was his predecessor.
The anti-American British public may be disappointed, however, in Brown’s lack of participation in their America-bashing. Still, the negative public climate is strong enough that we expect him to maintain a bit more distance between himself and Washington than Blair did. Also, his friendships among the Democrats in the capital are closer than with the Republicans. With the Democrats surging in power, Brown may actually take the opportunity to build a parallel transatlantic bridge to what looks like, in the words of the New York Post, “America’s new governing elite” (May 16).
Bearish on Europe
Another issue on which we may see a departure from Blair’s position is that of Europe.
Tony Blair was a committed Europhile—actually more so than most of his countrymen. Gordon Brown has been less excited about the European Union project than was his predecessor, in line with the somewhat more Euroskeptical majority opinion in Britain. As chancellor of the Exchequer, he resisted Blair’s push to move Britain to the euro, Europe’s single currency. This position has remained policy, and clearly to Britain’s economic benefit, but has caused no small amount of friction with the Eurocrats across the channel.
The Post made the point that Brown may move the British economy away from the big government welfare state that ballooned somewhat under Blair’s watch, and that, should that happen, it would “have the incidental effect of moving him further away from Europe and toward America” (ibid.).
The popular candidate for the Conservative Party, David Cameron—the primary candidate against whom Brown will most likely face off in the next election—is also far more cautious about the federalizing tendency of the European Union than Blair was.
In other words, Britain has likely witnessed the departure of the most pro-Europe prime minister in its history—and future. Brown’s appointment could well presage an increase in tensions between his nation and the Continent. The Trumpet has good reason to expect this outcome, based on the outline of biblical prophecy regarding the future of that relationship.
These trends—the drawdown of British involvement in the war on terror and the widening of the gulf between Britain and Europe—are likely effects of this transition of power. For more on the longer term prospects facing Britain, request a free copy of The United States and Britain in Prophecy.