The End of Teflon Tony Blair?

"Blair's darkest day," said the Daily Mail.

"The end of Teflon Tony," said The Times.

"Humiliating," said The Sun.

"Shattering," said the Scotsman

The British online media are not shy about passing judgments on the implications of the House of Commons's rejection yesterday of Prime Minister Tony Blair's proposal for allowing police to detain  terrorism suspects for 90 days without charges. While Blair today rejected calls for his resignation, the consensus across the political spectrum is that the prime minister's storied political power has been fundamentally damaged.

"There comes a moment when prime ministers discover their fallibility and realise that they are politically mortal,"  said the centrist Financial Times. "On Wednesday, after eight years at Number 10, that moment arrived for the Labour leader."

In response to the July 7 bombings in London,  Blair sought to increase the period for detaining terror suspects without charges from 14 days to 90 days. Forty nine members of his own Labour Party deserted him and joined Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in approving a 28-day period.

It was Blair's first defeat in Commons in his 3,115 days in office, noted the center-right The Scotsman, saying it is "likely prove a fatal wound" to Blair's political career.

About the only media support Blair received was from the right wing Sun which blasted the parliamentary majority as "traitors," saying Osama bin Laden was the "winner" of the vote and the victims of the 7/7 bombings "the losers."

The editors of the Daily Mail credited Blair with "almost reckless courage -- some might say arrogance -- in raising the stakes so high to get the 90-day provision through."

"With polls showing public support for the 90-day clause, he believed he could expose Tory and Lib Dem critics to the charge of being soft on terror," they wrote. The refusal of Commons to go along, they added "is almost certainly the beginning of the end of Blair's ability to achieve anything."

Many commentators said Blair would have won had he not refused to compromise on the 90-day figure.

"His macho stand will go down in history as a colossal error of judgment," said the Mirror. "The sheer stunning scale of the reverse and spring in the step of his tormentors raises the prospect of events running away from the Prime Minister. For Blair to repeatedly argue it is better to be right and lose than wrong and win shows he's more comfortable with soundbites than with learning harsh lessons."

Blair is not doomed says the leftist Guardian but his government "will have to choose more often now between compromise and defeat. Mr Blair needs to listen to parliament's voice. He will be in serious trouble if he decides - as he defiantly did yesterday - that the latter is always the better course."

The editors of the right-wing Daily Telegraph said much the same thing .

"If he is determined to carry on in Number 10, he needs to behave more like an elected representative and less like a self-appointed despot," they wrote.

The  Times suggested that Blair "may indeed win praise from 7/7 victims for 'doing the right thing.' But his keenness to press the issue may also be a sign of weakness, an indication that he felt the need for a dramatic gesture to recapture authority or mask a defeat. Either way, the result is a serious blow."

By Jefferson Morley |  November 10, 2005; 11:48 AM ET  | Category:  Europe
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The media have been announcing the political demise of Tony Blair for too long.This is mostly wishful thinking of the lefties in the media.The latest vote in the Commons is of course a setback in Blair's political career.But he will survive those myopic elements in his own party because people by and large support him and his policies.By the way,the lefties have ignominiously lost Shroeder.So,their clamour for the downfall of Blair would be more desperate.

Posted by: Bapaiah Kolli | November 10, 2005 12:09 PM

Its true Bapaiah that the British press is sometimes prone to hyperbole. But the people saying Blair faces his dismiss, those miscreants whom you dismiss as "myopic" Laborites, happen to include the Murdochites at The Times of London, the Tories at the Daily Telegraph, and the pro-war editors at The Scotsman, none of whom belong to Blair's party or love Gerhard Schroeder. They may be "wishful thinkers" but how do they qualify as "lefties?"

Posted by: Jefferson Morley | November 10, 2005 04:09 PM

Blair was damaged goods from the moment he signed on with Bush on his illegal war. The only reason he won re-election was because his opponents were even weaker and less palatable to the British public. The man is discredited, and his past is catching up with him.

Posted by: George Silva | November 10, 2005 05:24 PM

Bush and Blair have together started a war under false pretences, i.e. they lied us into war. Over 100,000 people have died as direct result. Now, "at the request of the police", but surely with Blairs'honest, fervent support, he fails to get 90 days as he wanted and may have to resign.

He should not resign - he should be charged with war crimes, along with Bush, he should be taken away and charged with crimes against humanity, this should happen tonight.

Posted by: Gary_7vn | November 10, 2005 07:48 PM

The error of judgement that led Blair to think he could win the vote will not lead to his immediate resignation or ousting.

However, it will probably bring forward the day that he does leave Number 10. Blair has always insisted that while he won't fight the next election he will serve a 'full term'. It's often been pointed out that putting a new leader in place only a few weeks before an election would leave that new leader weakened.

The big test for Blair now is whether he can get through his other reforms on the NHS and welfare. If he can't then that will bring forward his leaving the job even sooner. I'm sure he's painfully aware of the way Thatcher was thrown out by her party after she lost the political touch. He won't want to face the same thing.

Blair wants to portray the Labour rebels as being soft on terrorism to preserve civil liberties, though I and many others don't see that as a fault. The terrorists can bomb and kill us, but the only force strong enough to dismantle our freedoms and liberties are the British public.

Many reports of the debate say that the government failed to make the case for the 90 day incarceration without charge. Blair's 'trust me' message carries no weight any more after many MPs on both sides of the house believe he lied over Iraq's non-existant WMD.

There is also significant concern that the leaders of each of Britain's police forces, the Chief Constables were lobbying too hard for the change (perhaps at Number 10's insistance). Blair and his ministers say they were perfectly entitled to advise as people in the know and lobby as private citizens, but there may be a parliamentary investigation over the matter.

Blair will survive for now, but this week has loosened the grip he has on the party. If he is still in charge a year before the next election I will be very surprised.

Posted by: David Patrick, UK | November 11, 2005 04:48 AM

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