Blair's mandate to chart a fresh course


The British people have put their trust in Britain's new prime minister, Tony Blair, and his Labor Party. Mr. Blair's landslide election victory has given the Labor leader the mandate he wanted in order to redeem his pledge to be a truly radical prime minister. A win on this scale makes all things possible for the new government and promises an "action parliament" which will be a big contrast to the standstill House that the British people have endured for too long.

The new prime minister has promised to govern in the interests of the whole nation. He will also have the advantage of running a supremely confident government and of being able to carry out the policies to which he has committed himself and his party. Neither the Tories, who now form a badly depleted opposition, nor any pockets of ultra-left resistance to centrist Blair, within the ranks of the Labor parliamentary group, can realistically hope to throw a spanner in the works.

Blair's Labor Party has reiterated that Britain would sign the Maastricht Treaty's social chapter on uniform wages, working hours and conditions and job security which defeated John Major who was defeated as harmful to the economy and employment. Blair should waste no time carrying out the reforms he has already pledged in the areas of education, health and devolution of power to Scotland and Wales. Beyond that, he will have to establish a wide ranging agenda for reform in many other areas of national life, within a reasonable period of time, taking into account the unmistakable call for change sounded by the voters.

At the top of his agenda are better global economic cooperation, more serious promotion of worldwide human rights and a shake-up within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Blair's Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, made it clear that the priorities will be on a more human, user-friendly Britain solidly at the heart of Europe. 

According to Cook, "We want to take Britain out of a position of isolationism, out of inward-looking chauvinism and into being a leading member of the international community. Personally, I think we are entering a period when international politics is coming of age. Today, we live in an age when prosperity depends on your trade agreements, when defense is provided by international alliances." Having lost four elections in a row and occupied the opposition benches for 18 years, the Labor Party would, in normal circumstances, have been uneasy for a while in the seat of power and perhaps even stumbled a few times. But the enormous majority it enjoys will provide a cushion and sustain its leaders. Some allowance will have to be made, however, by the public and the media, to enable the new ministers to settle down in their posts.

Cook has vowed that Labor will not threaten the EU with vetoes. Blair will also have the confidence of negotiating in Europe as head of a united administration, less distracted than Major and his need to deal with a sharply divided party. Meanwhile, the Tories have been mauled by the election, and top candidates to take over the party's leadership from John Major have not even kept their parliamentary seats. The party needs a new leader who can rebuild it and make it strong again. A weak opposition will not be healthy for the workings of parliamentary government.

European leaders, including German Chancellor Helmet Kohl and French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette, commented that Labor's victory was a sign that hostility to Europe did not win votes. Anyway, as the Financial Times suggested, Blair's unprecedented majority meant he could afford to be bold. "On Europe, Blair has the freedom to chart a fresh course."

Let us wait and see.


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