Friday, June 11, 2004
The LibDem Favour

For foreign observers of the local elections, the narrative adopted will mirror that of the Liberal Democrats rather than the Conservatives or the mainstream press. The vicious withdrawal of support from the Labour Government can be traced to public disillusion, in which Iraq plays a part, but it is only another stepping stone on the long retreat from the political dominance achieved in 1997. That is why the "midterm blues" model, beloved of the BBC and Labour, does not fit the current psephological phenomena.

In the Arab World, Labour's drubbing is predictably caused by an anti-war and anti-Iraq vote: as Al-Jazeera's original report on the run-up to the elections made clear. A quick survey of other titles from India, the United States and the old Commonwealth, clearly show the reaction of the press to Labour's third place in the polls. The words, 'kicking', 'bloody nose' and 'Iraq' are all interchangeable.

We should be careful about citing Iraq as the major cause of Labour's defeat. It acts as a shorthand in the press for the disillusionment and disaffection that many show towards Blair's administration: qualities that were demonstrated just as clearly in 2001, without a war to spur them on. The causes of Labour's defeat are primarily domestic and the Tories still have a large mountain to climb before they can overcome the electoral handicaps of a shires party.

This election, just like the results published on Sunday, will affect foreign policy. First of all, those who backed Iraq as a campaign issue, will argue that the strategy worked and tapped into the disgust of the British electorate. They have to justify their choices. Secondly, this will ensure that Iraq, and, as a corollary, the alliance with America, will be questioned more often in the future, usually in relation to the preferred alternative of the critics, the European Union.

Foreign policy may become a more partisan and open debate. If the liberal Democrats can only offer 'Europe' as a viable alternative to a deeply sceptical public, the opportunity may exist for a Third Way: neither America nor Europe. Only time will tell if such an opportunity exists.

(23.15, 11th June 2004)


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