Blairs announcement leaves questions, debate

MANCHESTER, England — Prime Minister Tony Blair’s announcement that he would step down within the next 12 months left Britons with mixed feelings. The statement was aimed at putting a stop to dissent within the ruling Labor Party, but it opened up more criticism of both Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown, who many believe will be the next prime minister.

“Blair’s speech didn’t really answer any of the questions I want answered,” said Brendan Clegg, 25, of Halesowen. “Brown has gone down in my estimation throughout this saga. He could have ended the infighting very quickly and very swiftly but he let it fester for his own gains.”

Within the Labor Party, many expressed concern that unless a transition occurs before the next election, they might lose power. Conservative Party politicians, such as opposition leader David Cameron, are already using the leadership uncertainty for political ends.

“The tragedy of that is the only winner in all this is David Cameron, a man whose policies in the past are pretty terrifying and who at the moment has this bizarre popularity despite the fact he hasn’t committed a real opinion by way of policy in anything,” Clegg added. “He might get voted in without saying anything.”

Graham Stringer, a Labor member of Parliament from Manchester Blackley, told reporters that Blair’s statement wasn’t going to help quell the problems within the party. “I don’t believe leaving the date up in the air is going to stop the kind of debate and discussion that’s been going on,” he said. “Only the prime minister announcing that he is going very quickly and then commencing a leadership election is really going to take the pain out of this very difficult situation.”

For most, the primary question is not who will be the next prime minister, but whether Blair’s disastrous policies will continue.

“The issue is not whether Blair goes — it’s whether his disastrous policies go with him,” Communist Party of Britain industrial organizer Kevin Halpin said last week. These include Blair’s support for President Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his erosion of civil liberties and his support for privatization.

For Londoner Aaron McLevey, 27, the outlook is grim. “The policies won’t change for ages, if at all,” he said. “You see, for the next two years they will be saying how they are still trying to undo all of the mistakes and that it will take some time. Then it will come to a time for voting for a new government and they will make all the same promises.”

Stringer also warned of problems. “Politicians aren’t going to start behaving as though they are Mother Teresa. You can’t put politics on hold, which is what the prime minister is trying to do by saying he won’t tell us when he is going.”

Many groups are planning on demonstrations at the Labor Party’s Sept. 23 conference here. Fliers were handed out to the High Street shoppers, who were out in large crowds last Saturday. Organizers hope that a large turnout will send a message to those in the conference that policy and leadership changes need to happen sooner rather than later.

Concerns were openly raised in newspapers and in pub discussions about Blair’s policy in Iraq. Part of the weakening of Blair’s position has been the result of people seeing him as Bush’s “poodle.” It is unclear whether Brown or any of the other contenders for the position, including Home Secretary John Reid, will retain Blair’s policies or break from the alignment with Bush.

Questions have also been raised about Brown’s potential leadership style, with former Home Secretary Charles Clarke publicly calling Brown a “control freak” and criticizing Brown’s role in calling for Blair to step down.

As Labor infighting continued into the beginning of the week, British tabloids moved from covering celebrity gossip to rumors of a putsch headed by Brown.

“If only we could pick our prime ministers as well as our football coaches,” McLevey added with a laugh.

jen@jenthewriter.com