Love Labor's losses

Posted: May 11, 2005 12:00 AM

LONDON -- Talk about your tough crowd.

 Last week, Prime Minister Tony Blair won the Labor Party its first-ever consecutive third term at No. 10 Downing Street, and what does he get for thanks? Calls for him to resign because the Labor lost close to 100 seats, reducing its majority to 66 seats.

 "Tony Blair must listen to the voters and step down sooner rather than later," read the subhead of Labor MP Robin Cook's piece in Saturday's Guardian. The usual Labor critics are calling Blair a "liability."

 Blair's supposed to listen to the voters that gave his party a historic victory -- and resign? Doesn't make sense to me.

 Meanwhile, Tory leader Michael Howard won 36 seats for his Conservative Party -- a real gain -- and he did announce his resignation. In another twist, folks in his party are asking Howard to put off his resignation, so that he can use the next year to baste Blair some more.

 Blair now finds himself in waters familiar to President George W. Bush. Call that watery territory: You can't win.

 Labor has been stewing over Blair's cozy relations with Bush -- for which they blame Labor's losses. California Democratic Party bad boy Bob Mulholland -- who hates Bush and loves Blair -- called me Monday night to note that "Blair didn't go to Moscow" for V-E Day festivities, because he didn't want to be seen standing by Bush.

 Even for that, Blair is taking heat. Tuesday's Daily Express scolded that Blair's decision to send John Prescott was, as its front-page headline read, "shame to Back Row Britain." When he's with Bush, Blair's a poodle. When he's away from Bush, he's a truant.

 Gilbert & Sullivan would call the whole thing Topsy Turvy. The city of London is awash in old election signs that call the prime minister, "Tony B Liar."

 Still, experts say that Howard didn't win bigger because he called Blair a "liar." (Maybe the left has a trademark on the word, and it only hurts the Tories to use it.)

 Oddly too, in this race Howard most resembled Democratic Sen. John Kerry. Kerry, after all, never gained traction in 2004, as he bashed Bush for sending America to a war for which Kerry himself had voted. Kerry seemed opportunistic and dishonest as he hectored Bush not for what he did, but how he did it. For his part, Howard also supported the war, but nitpicked at how Blair took Britain to Baghdad. He, too, appeared overly opportunistic. No wonder the Tories lost.

 You would think that all of Britain opposed taking the country to Iraq, the way the media are piling on Blair. So I checked. In March 2003, the House of Commons voted to use "all means necessary" to disarm Saddam Hussein. The Commons also voted 396 to 217 against a bill that said the case for war "has not been established."

 Labor backbenchers who support Blair buddy Gordon Brown, chancellor of the treasury and Labor's heir apparent, talk as if Brown could erase the stain of Iraq. When Brown talks of his support for Blair on Iraq, they don't hear him. They've convinced themselves that Brown says so out of loyalty. They're like the many American Dems convinced themselves that Kerry didn't really support the war effort, even if he did vote for the war resolution.

 I'd love to hear Democrats who bemoan America's Electoral College defend Britain's electoral map. Labor won 35.2 percent of the vote on May 5, the Conservatives garnered 32.3 percent, while Liberal Democrats claimed 22 percent of the vote. As the Sunday Telegraph reported, if districts represented the overall vote, Labor would have won 227 seats, Tories would have won 209 seats and the Lib Dems would have won 142. Instead, that map so favors Labor, as it once favored Conservatives, that Labor won 356 seats, Conservatives won 197 seats and Liberal Democras won 62 seats. Representative, that isn't.

 David Kennard, a San Franciscan with dual U.S./U.K. citizenship, was musing election night at the British Consulate in San Francisco about the solid results of the May 5 vote. He saluted "a great desire in England to give Tony Blair a smacking."

 Amazing. Blair won a first-ever third consecutive term for Labor -- and half of Fleet Street dismisses it as a loss. Martin Kettle of The Guardian lamented Tuesday morning that calls for Blair to go make it seem "almost as though the election counted for nothing."

 The new slogan here could be: Let every vote count -- against the winner.