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Strange Bedfellows

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Aaron LarsonPerson was signed in when posted
02-17-2004
08:59 AM ET (US)
In The Guardian, Martin Kettle describes how Tony Blair's labor party saw a close relationship with Bush as being a good strategy to break any popular conception that the Tories were America's "natural ally", and postulates:
With hindsight, it probably worked too well. Three months after the 2001 general election - and all within the space of 24 hours - al-Qaida attacked the US, and the Tory party elected the most pro-American, most anti-European leader in its history. For the next two years and more, Blair's unchanged double imperative - to define the British possible in the context of American electoral choices while simultaneously seeking to prevent the Tories from posing as the White House's more natural ally - pushed him ever deeper into the American corner.

Whatever its other increasingly serious costs - in terms of Britain's international standing and in terms of Labour party management here at home - it was still possible to argue that the strategy made a certain perverse sense, even if one disagreed with it, as long as you assumed that Bush would be re-elected in November 2004.

Until very recently, that was precisely Downing Street's assumption. With Bush fighting the election as a post 9/11 warrior incumbent, and with his increasingly likely opponent, Howard Dean, fighting it as an antiwar liberal, it seemed certain that Bush would be in the White House until 2008. Looked at from Downing Street, the growing reality was that the remaining years of Blair's premiership - including the prospective general election of 2005 - would be defined within a Bush presidency.

All that changed in Iowa a month ago, when John Kerry stopped the Dean machine in its tracks and began his march towards the Democratic presidential nomination. Though eight and a half months of unprecedentedly negative campaigning and a host of unforeseeable events still separate us from election day, Kerry's emergence has already turned the contest on its head. Last week's Washington Post national poll had Kerry leading Bush by 52-43 points. The assumption that Bush is bound to win no longer applies.

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