Blair, Bush and Democracy
By Jerome Grossman
After more than a decade as Prime Minister, super politician Tony Blair has resigned his powerful leadership position under the pressure of fallen approval ratings from the British public. Now that Blair is out of power, political observers have begun to analyze his tenure and its meaning for democracy in Britain and around the world.
How was Blair able to retain the leadership of his party and the nation in the face of strong opposition to his Iraq policy by a margin of more than two to one, opposition that has been passionate for years? If he had an ideological blind spot on the war, why didn’t his party oust him when he began to lose seats in the House of Commons?
In a democratic system all power flows from the voters. They vote for members of Parliament, whose responsibility it is to represent the masses. The members in turn elect a leader who takes power when he has a majority. The Prime Minister, after winning a general election, can do pretty much what he wishes. Party favors and party loyalty give the PM power virtually unchecked. Blair whipped Parliament into supporting the Iraq war obtaining 578 out of 646 seats, selling a short war against a weak opponent, a war sponsored by big brother George W. Bush and his invincible superpower. It did not work out as anticipated and the British people want to get out of the war – now.
But why is it so difficult for the politicians who constantly praise the idea of democracy to bow to the will of their own people. British and American politicians find reasons to continue the occupation of Iraq even though the people regard the war as a mistake and want to save the lives of their soldiers. Here are some of the reasons: the Iraqi factions will kill each other; they will kill our troops on the way out; they will seize our equipment; they will create chaos in the region; they will sell their oil to someone else; they will conquer the world with their headscarves and AK-47s, etc, etc. Leaders have a perfect right to try to convince the people on policy but there must be a time limit to prevent dictatorial conduct. How many years of fruitless fighting without popular support?
Blair metamorphosed himself from a politician who prided himself on his sensitivity to public opinion when running for office to one who prided himself on his ability to ignore it when he achieved power. So did George W. Bush. When defying public opinion Blair and Bush regularly said, “I know I'm right about this, I will be true to myself.” Both are proud of their stubbornness and even insist that they are doing God's work. Are they practicing a modern version of “L’ Etat, c’est moi” (I am the state) and the divine right “Dieu et mon droit” (By God and my Right)
Both have succumbed to a form of magical thinking about their ability to will away obstacles and opposition. In their resolute belief in themselves, not the will of the public, they attack the very basis of Democracy, a decent respect for the opinions of the people.