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Slate's Dispatches: Blair Expected to Win Re-Election

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, Slate's human guinea pig stuffs herself at a matzo ball eating contest.

But first, in Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair is fighting for a third term. This week, voters will go to the polls for their first national election since the start of the Iraq War. Blair's popularity has suffered over his decision to support the US in that war, but polls suggest his Labor Party will still hold on to a parliamentary majority and that Blair himself will remain prime minister. I spoke earlier with Slate's foreign editor June Thomas, who joined us from London. She says people don't seem that interested in the election.

JUNE THOMAS (Slate): Well, it's very peculiar. I'm staying in central London in what, I guess, is a safe Tory seat, and there are absolutely no signs that there's an election going on. There are no banners, there are no window stickers, nobody's wearing any buttons at all. And yet you turn on the television or open the newspapers and they're full of election coverage. And then if you get on the Tube and you go to a place where there's a close race or something very special is happening, and suddenly there's an election on. But for most people in this country, I would guess that if they don't switch on the television set, they could not know that there's an election happening on Thursday.

BRAND: And why is that, do you think?

THOMAS: I think partly it's a general dissatisfaction with the system. In Britain, politics tends to be class-based, and a lot of Labor supporters are unhappy with Prime Minister Blair over the war especially. But generally, there are other issues, too, that have upset them; things like education fees in Britain. People expect university education to be free, and in the last government, the Labor Party introduced fees for students. And so on various kind of core issues for the party, Labor voters are dissatisfied with New Labour, as Tony Blair's movement is called. And so there tend--unless there is a really close fight and there's a reason to get out the vote, the electorate is very soft.

BRAND: Let's talk about Tony Blair's support for the Iraq War, an extremely unpopular decision in Britain. Is there any sign that that is going to come back to haunt him?

THOMAS: Absolutely. In the last week or so, a couple of documents have been revealed that talk about the way that Britain became involved in the Iraq War. And although in both cases, the documents were really pretty obscure, it was hard to really--there were no smoking guns there, but they certainly did the job of making the Iraq War, really, the top issue.

BRAND: According to recent polls, the Liberal Democrats are nipping at the heels of Labor. Tell us about this party.

THOMAS: Yeah, the Liberal Democrats, as they're now known, are the modern version of the Liberal Party, who were a huge voice in British politics. And then in the 20th century, they went into a large decline, became very much a third party. Since New Labour has come along, they really have become more popular. They also have done a very good job locally. There are a lot of city councils and local areas that are governed by the Liberal Democrats, and they have a very good reputation of keeping residents happy.

They are also known to have somewhat pie-in-the-sky policies, knowing that they will never become the government and so will never have to enact them. So the chances are they'll do better than they've ever done before, at least in the last 100 years or so. And it'll be interesting to see if once they have a little more power, their policies become more realistic. And despite the name `Liberal Democrats,' they are generally known as centrists, although these days some of their policies, especially regarding education funding and Iraq, are to the left of the Labor Party.

BRAND: And what about the Conservatives, the Tory Party, the party of Margaret Thatcher?

THOMAS: Mm-hmm.

BRAND: Could they make a comeback?

THOMAS: They could, but it seems unlikely. Their leader, Michael Howard, has received a lot of complaints because of the way that he's led the campaign. At the beginning of the campaign, which only takes four weeks--so it's not the long, long slog that we're familiar with in the United States--the focus was on asylum and immigration, which is effective. There are people who are very concerned about asylum-seekers moving into Britain and also rising immigration largely because of the European Union. But still, it's seen as a dirty tactic, especially since Mr. Howard's father was himself an immigrant, as he himself says, an economic immigrant to Britain.

So Howard is a very active, a very--even though he's the oldest of the party leaders, to this morning, he was running around the Manchester constituency delivering leaflets. So he's an active chap, and he seems quite attractive to me, but I don't think there's much chance of the Tories doing well this election.

BRAND: Opinion and analysis from June Thomas. She's chronicling the British election for our partners at Slate.

Thanks a lot, June.

THOMAS: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
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