Magazine

Blueprint for a Second Blair Term


Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, has called a general election for June 7. He seems likely to win a second term. The Conservative opposition still hasn't recovered from its disastrous defeat in 1997, when Blair won a 179-seat majority in the 659-seat Parliament. The polls show Blair's Labour Party with a lead of 18%, which would mean another huge victory.

Assuming he wins, Blair should put a second term to good use. He is often accused of being more sound bite than substance, but his first term has actually been quite eventful. He's achieved a shaky peace in Northern Ireland; fostered long overdue regional autonomy in Scotland and Wales; and given the Bank of England the power to set interest rates. His biggest contribution has probably been shifting Labor to the center. The party had been so far to the Left that it was unelectable.

In asking for a second term, Blair is asking for a mandate to pursue radical change. One hopes that he means more creative solutions to some of Britain's remaining big issues than he displayed in the first term. Blair has shown little imagination in his efforts to fix the ponderous state-run National Health Service. He should think the unthinkable at the NHS, including privatization.

He also needs to come to terms with whether Britain should belong to the European single currency. Of course, putting one's monetary policy under the control of the European Central Bank does not seem very appetizing. But he should eventually clarify his intentions for business and make a judgment about whether Britain can really afford to let its currency bob up and down just outside the euro zone. That's already contributed to the pound becoming substantially overvalued, to the sorrow of exporters. Blair can't go on forever saying that he is in favor of joining in principle but not unless the circumstances are right.


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