Blair Battles for Third Term in U.K. Elections

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Which political party will emerge victorious in Britain's upcoming election? Alex Chadwick talks with John Rentoul, reporter for The Independent newspaper, about Thursday's general election in Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair faces a battle for re-election.


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, the Wednesday Book Report and a story of duty and loss. First, this: The British general election is tomorrow, with Prime Minister Tony Blair of the Labor Party in the lead. He spoke at a press conference this morning.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): Tomorrow, there is a very simple choice before the country. People either wake up on May the 6th with a Labor government or a Conservative government. And the central question in this campaign is: Which party is best for the future of Britain?

CHADWICK: Joining us from London is John Rentoul. He's a columnist for The Independent newspaper.


Mr. JOHN RENTOUL (The Independent): Good day.

CHADWICK: is Britain going to respond to Mr. Blair's question?

Mr. RENTOUL: Well, reluctantly, they're going to give him a third term in office, I suspect. The big question is how large Labor's majority is going to be. I mean, he was elected in '97 and in 2001 with huge--by historical standards, huge majorities in the House of Commons, 179 and 167. This time, he'll be back into sort of more normal political territory with a majority of perhaps between 50 and a hundred.

CHADWICK: The wire stories and news accounts that I've been reading in the last few days say that while Mr. Blair does have a lead, it's narrowing in these few days. Could it narrow enough, do you think, to actually challenge his government?

Mr. RENTOUL: I don't think so. I don't think--I think election campaigns in this country are pretty much the same as they are in America or in most other democratic countries. Although people tell pollsters they haven't actually made up their minds, there usually isn't much movement in the last few days. And even if there is a little bit of movement, it's not going to make the difference between victory and defeat for Tony Blair. I mean, even if the opinion polls are as wrong as they've been on the last three occasions--and they do tend to get it consistently wrong in this country in one direction; they tend to overstate Labor's share of the vote--even if that happens again, Labor will be in with a small majority.

CHADWICK: To what extent is this election there a referendum on the war in Iraq?

Mr. RENTOUL: Well, it would very much--there are a lot of people in this country who would very much like it to be, and most of them are journalists. So the media coverage of the election campaign has been dominated by Iraq, but to be honest, that's not what the majority of the general public care about. They may have decided they didn't like the war in Iraq or they may have thought it was a good thing, but generally, they'll be voting on more immediate issues such as crime and immigration and the state of the health service and the schools in this country.

CHADWICK: Well, what about the issue of immigration and asylum there? Conservatives have played heavily on this racially charged atmosphere around these issues. What's that going to mean for post-election?

Mr. RENTOUL: Well, the Conservatives have run very, very hard on immigration and asylum-seeking, but they did the last time, as well, four years ago, and it got them absolutely nowhere. I mean, the problem is the sort of people whose votes are likely to be influenced by this issue tend to be Conservatives anyway. So what they're doing is really strengthening their own base, they're getting their own supporters to turn out and the sort of middle-ground centrist voters tend not to be particularly moved by it. I mean, Labor are not going to do as well in this election as they have done in the past, partly because of Iraq, but they're still going to do well enough for Tony Blair to be re-elected comfortably, I think.

CHADWICK: Does this mean that there's some chance that a real left opposition will be resuscitated in Britain?

Mr. RENTOUL: No. No chance at all, I'm afraid.


Mr. RENTOUL: I think--there is a third party in British politics, which often confuses outside observers because it usually takes--the Liberal Democrats. They usually take a middle position on most things. But because Tony Blair is so successful at reaching out across the center ground towards the right wing of politics, the middle party, the Liberal Democrats, have been forced out to the left on a lot of issues. But that just confuses the picture even more and ensures that Tony Blair is able to present himself as a center-left-dominant figure in British politics even more successfully, because the traditional protest party in the center has been forced out to the extreme left on many of the traditional left-wing issues in British politics.

CHADWICK: John Rentoul, columnist for The Independent, on the election in Britain tomorrow.

John, thanks.

Mr. RENTOUL: My pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: More just ahead on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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