Churchill and Thatcher Were Thrown Out of Office ... How About Blair?

Roundup: Media's Take

Patrick Tyler, writing in the NYT (Jan. 25, 2004):

Since becoming prime minister in 1997, Tony Blair has proved the most successful and popular Labor leader of the last century, yet there are whispers in his own party that he could be out of office by Easter.

"If Blair is out next week, there probably won't be any tears outside his family because it is a ruthless system and it's the way the system works," said Iain McLean, professor of politics at Oxford University.

Whatever it is about British politics and the parliamentary system that deliver abrupt and surprising reversals of political fortune seems to be at work again. Mr. Blair has proved nimble at brilliant reinventions in the past, but the question remains: Can he outrun British democracy's penchant for fatigue, which has sometimes claimed leaders at the most surprising times?

In May 1945, Winston Churchill was at the apex of power after Germany's surrender. And with Franklin Roosevelt's death the month before, Mr. Churchill was the West's icon of allied victory.

Yet before the month was out, he was forced to resign as prime minister, and the Labor Party soon swept into office under Clement Attlee.

In 1990, Margaret Thatcher suffered a similar indignity after winning three terms for her party, presiding with Ronald Reagan at the burial of Communism in Europe and privatizing much of the British economy.

In August she was telling the first President Bush, with Churchillian verve, not to go "wobbly" in the face of Saddam Hussein invasion of Kuwait. But by November she was political toast, overthrown by Tory rebels and replaced by John Major.

"I was visiting at Stanford University in 1990 and my colleagues had no idea" that Mrs. Thatcher was teetering, said Professor McLean.

"It was Thanksgiving, so there was no one around to explain,'' he added. "So I was briefly a pundit.''

Like Churchill and Lady Thatcher before him, Mr. Blair has set records for longevity and led his nation into war. He returned the Labor Party to a prominence it had not enjoyed in 101 years with two landslide victories. Large Labor majorities took control of the House of Commons, and almost every city, town and shire overturned the Tory supremacy in British life.

But his war leadership in Iraq has made him deeply unpopular with a large segment of the public, even though opinion polls still show that a plurality of Britons back his decision to go to war to remove Mr. Hussein.

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