Is Blair on the Ropes?

The last few months have not been good ones for British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Support for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the recent resignation of closest aide Alastair Campbell (“Blair’s Karl Rove,” as he has been called), and anger from the still-potent left wing of his Labour Party have taken their toll on the resident of Number Ten Downing Street since 1997.

A just-completed London Times poll shows Labour defeating the opposition Tories (conservatives) by a slim margin of 39% to 34%, with 19% going to the smaller Liberal Democratic Party. Last month, the LDP–alone among the major parties in Great Britain to have opposed war with Iraq–romped to victory in a special election for a seat in the House of Commons that Labour had won in the last general election (2001) with 63% of the vote.

The problem is that not all of the Tory Party is enamored with its leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who has fared poorly in the “question time” confrontations with the magnetic Blair. Moreover, so divided are the Tories between those who want to enter the European Community and the “Euroskeptics” (including Smith) that much of the soft money from the business community (who are primarily Europhiles) has dried up and the party coffers now depend largely on public funds that go to all major parties.

But Julian Lewis, Member of Parliament and the Tory spokesman on defense issues, assured me during a recent lunch in Washington that “nearly all of the criticism of IDS [Smith], who is from Margaret Thatcher’s wing of the party, comes from those who want to be part of Europe and he beat someone from that faction of the party by a large margin of party members two years ago.” Lewis dismissed talk of an anti-Smith rebellion and of the Tories changing leaders before the next general election, which Blair has to call by 2006.