Wednesday, May 10, 2006

May 5 Hurricane hits UK politics

Key question in the air

IT IS as if a hurricane has hit the British Labour Party. The heads of political heavyweights such as Jack Straw and Charles Clarke and several others have rolled in the cabinet reshuffle that followed the party's dismal showing in local elections.
Hurricane warnings were being heard for some time and the poor showing by Prime Minister Blair's party was in the making. Damaging headlines prompted by revelations of incompetence and sleaze allegations have been a feature in the media for several weeks. Blair had been reeling back from some of the charges levelled against his close colleagues lieutenants that added to the pressure he was already facing from the unpopular British military involvement in Iraq.
Indeed, local council elections could not be an accurate reflection of popular thinking when it comes to parliamentary polls, but there is no mistaking the fact that Blair's New Labour is on a downward slide.
Blair moved quickly to reshuffle the cabinet on Friday, in hours after it became clear that the problems hitting the party took their toll in the form of nearly 320 seats in local councils. Almost all of them were lost to the opposition Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats won a greater share of the vote than Labour but this only translated into 16 extra seats.
However, a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) projection showed the Liberal Democrats accounting for 27 per cent of the total votes cast compared with the Labour's 26 per cent and the more than 40 per cent of the Conservatives. That the Liberal Democrats seem to be catching up with the Labour is yet another bad news for Blair.
Blair's reshuffle seems to be desperate attempt to shore up the sagging fortunes of his party that had come to power with great promises in 1998 but failed to keep many of them. If anything, he was also seen as too subservient to US President George W Bush. On the domestic front, his policies in the wake of the Sept.11 attacks in the US were deemed too harsh, particularly his crackdown on people, some of whose only charge could be that they could be suspected of harbouring militancy.
The July 2005 bombing attacks in London were cited by pro-government figures seeking to justify Blair's tough approach, but it has all but been accepted that the motivations behind the bombings had to do with the British involvement in Iraq than homegrown terrorism aimed at the establishment for the sake of targeting the establishment.
In any event, Blair's cabinet reshuffle could only be a short-term measure. The prime minister has been facing a revolt within his party ranks in parliament and he had only scraped through in some of the key votes despite having a comfortable majority in the assembly. Analysts are already asking whether Blair would be able to weather the bitter criticism that would follow from within the party after the dismal performance in local elections and possibly lead to a parliamentary rebellion for his resignation.