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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Blair’s Win: Lessons for Dems?

Dan Balz discusses some possible lessons for Dems in the British elections in his Sunday WaPo article “Democrats Could Profit From Blair’s Labor: Prime Minister Shows Value in Hewing to Center.” Balz concedes that making any comparisons between the Labor and Democratic parties’ performance in national elections is fraught with problems. For starters, it’s impossible to sort out how much of the average Brit’s vote is for Prime Minister, since they don’t vote directly for the P.M., just their local M.P. Balz does believe, however, that among other factors, a thriving economy played a central role in Blair’s victory:

Under the guidance of Gordon Brown, Britain’s finance minister and likely prime minister when Blair steps down, Labor has made the economy its number one priority, supporting growth policies that have provided stability and prosperity….”No one really argued that there was no improvement in public services or the economy,” said David Miliband, a former domestic policy adviser to Blair who was named to a cabinet position in the new government. “People could say they wanted more, but they recognized that there was improvement.”

WaPo columnist Sebastian Mallaby sees huge economic problems looming for the U.K. in the near future. But he notes further in today’s column on “Blair’s Magic”:

Since Labor took power eight years ago, there hasn’t been a single quarter in which the economy failed to expand. Inflation has stayed out of sight. Unemployment, the bane of Britain 20 years ago, has fallen below 5 percent, marginally lower than in the United States and less than half the rate in France and Germany.

By contrast, Balz argues that the Democrats have failed to make the most of their successes as stewards of the economy under Clinton or the GOP’s failure to deliver economic security:

In 2000, Democrats surrendered their advantage on the economy when Al Gore decided not to make the economic record of the Clinton administration the central theme of his campaign for president. Democratic strategists believe that Bush’s economic record, particularly on fiscal matters, provides an opening to make the Democrats once again the party of stability, growth and fiscal discipline. But party leaders have yet to do so.

Balz doesn’t have a lot to say about the effect of the national security issue on Blair’s win. Clearly, the “Bush’s lapdog” critique had a very limited effect. Given the much stronger anti-war sentiment and movement in the U.K., however, it may account for the loss of Labor seats in Parliament. But Balz hit on something important in citing “the conviction Blair demonstrated in the face of rebellion in his own ranks.” And, Mallaby has noted Blair’s:

…willingness to espouse policies on frankly moral grounds have been a tonic for his country’s cynical culture, even if his perceived dissembling on Iraq has brought the cynics out in force again recently

Anyone who has watched Tony Blair holding forth on C-SPAN’s broadcast of “Question Time” in the House of Commons would likely agree that, like him or not, Blair doesn’t waffle on issues, particularly Britain’s involvement in Iraq. The big lesson for Dems in Britain’s elections may be that certitude, rightly or wrongly, is a key to winning uncommitted voters.