Would this bring out the best in Tony Blair?
As the people of Spain remember the 191 people who died in the Madrid bombings just a year ago what would be the impact on a UK General Election if a terror outrage on this scale happened in the run-up to polling?
Would Tony Blair’s support for George Bush and his tough stance on terror reinforce the desire of voters for a third Labour term or would the Prime Minister be blamed for making the UK a more likely target because of the Iraq War?
In Spain, of course, the explosions came less than 72 hours before the election in which the Socialists ousted the right-wing Popular Party led by Jose Maria Aznar. The opposition, which had vehemently opposed Iraq got the benefit, helped in no small part by the way ministers tried to link what had happened to the the Basque-separatist movement, ETA.
For looking at what happened there it was the way that politicians reacted that seems to have been the deciding factor rather than the bombings themselves.
There is little doubt that the ability of Tony Blair to sense accurately and articulate the public mood at times of disaster is one of his greatest political strengths. The way he responded to Princess Diana’s death and his immediate reaction to September 11th put him in a class apart from UK politicians.
He would judge to perfection the moment when to start turning the political knife into those who, for instance, made life hard during the terror bill’s passage through Parliament.
Michael Howard is proving to be the great “attack dog” of British politics – qualities that might not be at a premium in the aftermath of an awful attack. He’s been at his weakest whenever he’s tried to exploit Tony Blair’s position on Iraq and his legalistic style might not suit the mood of the moment.
Charles Kennedy would probably get this one right and his ability to sound non-political and be believed would increase his esteem in the eyes of many voters.
Â© Mike Smithson 2005