EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the February 23, 2004, issue of National Review.
One of the political curiosities of the age is the love that American conservatives harbor toward Tony Blair. It is an unrequited love–Blair is a modernizing left-liberal–but a heartfelt one. And when Blair survived two major threats to his leadership in the last week of January, there were outbursts of conservative joy at his deliverance. But has he really restored his political dominance? And if he has, should conservatives be pleased?
At first glance, he certainly looks dominant–after winning the parliamentary vote on his proposed reform of college-tuition fees, and being cleared by a senior British judge of any underhandedness in the David Kelly affair. But a closer look suggests otherwise.
What Blair achieved in the tuition vote was the avoidance of a historic humiliation. If he had been defeated, it would have been only the fourth time in a century that a government had lost the vote on the second reading of a bill (when the principles of legislation are debated). He escaped that disaster, but saw his normal majority of 161 fall to five. Outright defeat was avoided at the last moment, when the leading Labor rebels backed down in return for concessions negotiated not with Blair but with his rival, Finance Minister Gordon Brown. Even so, it is far from certain that the tuition legislation will become law: Many of the rebels intend to ambush it in committee. In any case, the legislation has already been so diluted by concessions as to be practically worthless.
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