Plainly, the Tony Party is in deep, deep trouble. Labour not only got thumped in local elections all over Britain, it actually finished third. Hardly surprising, really, given the shambles that Blair’s cabinet had become, with John Prescott gefuffling with his secretary, Charles Clarke inadvertantly losing a thousand convicts eligible for deportation, and so on. So Blair has announced sweeping changse to his cabinet to show he’s heeding the voters. But the most interesting change he announced on Friday was the demotion of longtime ally Jack Straw from the job of Foreign Secretary. After all, these were local elections, and why drop your top diplomat when his purview would seem to have nothing to do with Labour’s setbacks? Well, it’s worth noting that the British people know they were lied to and manipulated by Blair to get them to join the invasion of Iraq, and that’s a loss of confidence from which this Labour government won’t easily recover. (Especially now when the war drums are being thumped again over Iran.) Getting rid of Blair would be the optimal solution, which the Labour Party will no doubt do within a couple of months. But for now, Blair appears to have settled for the next best thing, which is axing Straw, the man who more than any other figure in the British government personifies Blair’s intimacy with the Bush administration. The Guardian’s Ewen McAskill also sees Iran as the reason for Straw’s demotion, although he sees the motivation as quite the opposite: Straw had made clear his opposition to a military strike on Iran, and had told the British public that such a strike was “inconceivable.” Blair, ever faithful to the reckless instincts of the Bush administration, doesn’t agree. (And, of course, like Bush, Blair won’t have to answer to his electorate when his mentor in Washington once again sets the East ablaze.)
P.S. Actually, the more I read about the tension between Blair and Straw over Iran (and in light of echoes of Bernard’s comment below), the more I’m inclined to see Straw’s axing as based on the fact that’s he’s a dissenter from the Bush administration hard line. If it was simply a response to public opinion, he wouldn’t have been pulled off the job at this critical moment in the Iran diplomacy — if Straw rather than Margaret Beckett had gone the foreign ministers’ meeting in New York on Monday, the Germans would have had important backing in their bid to bridge the U.S. and Sino-Russian positions. Now, instead, Britain will likely simply fall into line behind Washington.