Blair seeks a new mandate

Scripps Howard News Service: British prime ministers are elected to five-year terms, but they can call for a new election at any time during that period, and this week Prime Minister Tony Blair did.
To Americans still recovering from last year's marathon presidential campaign, the British system is attractively simple -- and brief. The prime minister goes over to Buckingham Palace, asks the queen to dissolve Parliament; she does, and four weeks later -- May 5 for this one -- there's an election.
Blair, first elected in 1997 and re-elected in 2001, is seeking an unprecedented third term for a Labor prime minister; he says it will be his last. According to the British press, Blair runs some risk from disaffected or bored voters, but he should win, although perhaps not with the huge majority -- 410 seats out of 659 -- his party commands now.
The issues
The campaign will be fought principally over domestic issues like public transportation, schools and the National Health Service. But there will be one looming foreign-policy issue -- Blair is a staunch and unwavering ally of the United States. Although ideologically far apart, Blair has been the foreign leader most supportive of President Bush and the one coalition leader who put real muscle on the ground -- currently over 8,000 troops -- in Iraq.
Blair supported the justification for that war -- weapons of mass destruction -- and was burned even worse than Bush when none was found. The opposition and even some members of his own party called him a liar. And he has been accused of slavishly doing Bush's bidding but having little influence over the president in return. Blair seems commendably unfazed by the charges.
There is a sense that the tide of anti-U.S. sentiment that arose in Europe with the invasion of Iraq is beginning to recede. The British election campaign might show whether that's actually so.

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