Tuesday 11 February 2003

Blair should beware of regime change in Britain

Fetch Tony Fetch.... Good boy.... In the circle around Tony Blair a certain air of unreality now rules. This is not unreality on the scale of Louis XVI, writing "Rien" in his diary entry on the day the Bastille fell. But it is not negligible unreality either.

In recent days the Blairite talk has been of the postwar future, of what they will do after Iraq. They talk of how they are focused on the public services. They talk of how they will take Britain at last into the euro. They talk of what to do about Gordon Brown. And yesterday, in a Downing Street seminar, they talked of how they will re-energise what used to be known as the "third way" and what they now dub "progressive governance".

In one sense, all this is a necessary reminder, to ministers and to us, that politics goes on and that the Blair government is about much more than an attack on Iraq. But that cuts both ways. It is also a reminder of how much is at issue for Britain in the next few weeks. For it is not just Baghdad, but London, that is threatened with regime change if George Bush goes to war unilaterally with Iraq.

The stakes for Britain are very high. It is possible that Blair will emerge as strong as ever from a quick early war on Iraq. But there is little evidence for such claims. To believe them, you would have to dismiss the consistently damaging messages in recent polls and, at the same time, look at difficult times ahead through unusually rose-tinted glasses.

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