What Tony Blair has done to try to fix tomorrow
Whatever your personal politics you have to admire the amazing political skills of Tony Blair. Just look at what he’s done to deal with the projected disaster that for at least two years people were predicting for him in the 2004 Euro Election.
Five years ago New Labour was riding high in the polls. The Mori figures had them at 56%, with William Hague’s Tories on just 25%. Yet when it came to Euro Election day the polling figures meant nothing. The Tories got 35.8 to Labour’s 28%. In the first national PR election in the UK the Conservatives won 36 Euro seats to Labour’s 29 and could claim a victory. The LDs got 10 seats for the12.6% of the vote.
Fast forward to 2004 and Labour’s mammoth poll leads have collapsed and they are level pegging with the Tories. Based on Labour’s inability in the heady days of 1999 to get its vote out – what lay in store for the party tomorrow? What an appalling starting point for the General Election planned for 05/05/05? What a great platform for Michael Howard to show that he is leading a credible party? And what an opportunity for the Lib Dems now riding high after being the only party to oppose the war?
The prospect of a calamity has dominated thinking at 10 Downing Street for at least two years, and Tony Blair has forced through several measures, all of them controversial, to try to ameliorate the situation and boost Labour turnout.
Firstly he tinkered with the election time-table so that the 2004 locals take place on the Euro day. This means that all councillors who were elected for four years in 2000 have been given an extra five weeks in office and those that will be elected tomorrow will have their terms cut-back by the same period. So what you might say but this is tinkering with the democratic process to suit party needs.
Secondly he forced through the postal voting experiment on a much wider scale than the Electoral Commission wanted so that 14m would be involved. Judging by the reported turnout figures of upto 40% in these areas so far this has been a huge success. But there are also reports of fraud and intimidation the consequences of which will go on well beyond this weekend.
Thirdly Tony Blair ditched the Labour party’s own rules and in spite of widespread internal opposition, including from Gordon Brown, he brought Ken Livingstone back into the party to try to help stop a heavy defeat for Labour in London. Today’s Guardian reports that Livingstone and Norris are “running neck and neck” amongst those certain to vote.
And fourthly Tony Blair did a complete U-turn on the issue of a referendum on the Euro Consitution upsetting the Europhiles and causing a few days bad press. Yet, as we’ve seen, at a single stroke he’s robbed Michael Howard of his best card in this campaign and managed to expose all the old Tory Euro wounds.