The troubles that now confront George Bush and
Tony Blair are a good lesson for all political leaders who refuse
to accept the truth that political popularity is as evanescent as
a desert mirage.
Those who believe that they have an eternal honeymoon
with their people are best consigned to the dustbins of history
as early as possible before they further ruin the countries they
rule, not to mention others they wish to rule.
George Bush won a second term quite comfortably
and enjoyed the support of a Republican-majority Congress that virtually
gave free rein to run the United States with scant concern for the
thinking and feelings of rest of the world.
|Indian activists of the leftist organisation
Social Unity Center of India (SUCI) shout anti-US slogans as
they burn hanging effigies of US President George W. Bush and
British Prime Minister Tony Blair during a protest rally in
Bangalore November 09. The rally was organised to protest against
the death sentence handed by a tribunal to the deposed Iraqi
President Saddam Hussain and two of his associates for their
role in the killing of 148 Iraqi people. AFP
Tony Blair won three consecutive elections and
achieved what no other Labour prime minister has done in the history
of British parliamentary democracy.
But where are they today? All the goodwill they
had accumulated over the years has been dissipated by their disregard
for the norms of civilised political conduct. Kicking public opinion
in the teeth and sweeping corruption and misdeeds in their inner
circles is hardly the way to win friends and influence voters.
To think that previous personal popularity will
forever rescue them from political foolhardiness and the scandals
swarming like bees round their political parties is the kind of
short-sightedness politicians and their close cronies should avoid
but rarely do.
If political leaders and their closest aides learnt
from the mistakes of their predecessors or the leaders of other
countries we might have thought that salvation is at hand. Alas
that is not to be, for rarely do political leaders wish to admit
their mistakes or those of the kindred spirits that surround them.
If a mixed metaphor might be permitted it is those
round the leaders who make hay while the iron is hot.
Bush and Blair's rejection by their own people
is a lesson they have lived to learn even before exhausting their
respective terms of office.
The US mid-term elections on Tuesday saw the control
of Congress passing on to a more assertive Democratic opposition
that would virtually seal Bush's unilateralist policies. The political
demography of Washington where power resides in the US has been
perceptibly changed because of the Bush administration's individualistic
and reckless policies and the scandals that have dogged it, from
Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to the lucrative reconstruction contracts
in Iraq for Bush and Dick Cheney contacts and several republican
Tony Blair is surviving by the skin of his teeth.
The last local government elections earlier this year proved that
the public has lost faith in his leadership and resulted in calls
from within his party to hand over the reins of office to Chancellor
This month he had a very close call in a parliamentary
vote that was proof enough of the anger within his own party.
Scandal after scandal has brought the two administrations
into public disrepute. These scandals that have plagued the two
administrations over a range of issues are also responsible for
the electoral defeat doled out to Bush and the growing public antipathy
to the Blair government.
With only months to go before he hands over power
to a new leader Blair now faces the ignominy of being questioned
by the Metropolitan police over a cash-for-peerages scandal that
has rocked party politics in this country.
Scotland Yard is investigating whether British
political parties have awarded peerages and other honours to individuals
who donated funds to party coffers.
Already some of those close to Tony Blair have
been questioned by the police and several ministers have also answered
questions directed at them by the investigators wanting to know
whether they knew about the cash-for-peerages exchange that would
violate two laws including one introduced by the Blair government
The danger to Blair comes from the fact that the
investigation is closing in on him and he is expected to be questioned
by the police next month.
Whatever other defects the British political system
might have, its strength is that nobody is really above the law.
The fact that the Metropolitan police acting on a complaint made
by a Scottish MP could question ministers and now even the prime
minister without being overawed by political power is indeed to
the credit of this parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.
Would the Sri Lanka police, even if it had wished
to, be in a position to summon ministers and the prime minister
to be questioned over an investigation they are conducting.
Apart from ministers, even if some lowly government
politician or party faithful was questioned that police officer
would find himself in the wilds of the Wanni or some other god forsaken
place, if he had not already been sent on compulsory leave.
True, both in Bush and Blair believed in their
own ways they were doing good. Conjoined by an evangelical zeal
that bordered on bigotry the two messiahs from either side of the
pond misled the world into believing that Saddam Hussein was a danger
not only to the West Asia region but also to the western world.
Their insistence that the Iraqi dictator had weapons
of mass destruction that threatened the world was merely the excuse
they used to hide their real purpose which was depose Saddam Hussein
and install a regime that was benign and a lackey.
Regime change was the real reason, bringing freedom
and democracy to Iraq the glorious lie with which they fooled the
Now democracy has struck back in a way that neither
Bush nor Blair expected as both leaders in their twilight time in
national politics face troubled times at home and surely abroad.
Right now their respective problems are different.
Some of them stem from the Iraq war which was popular in the United
States largely because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Bush
administration's gung ho policy of wanting to beat its opponents
into pulp appealed to the American psyche not fully recovered after
That display of American might was in keeping
with the increasingly reckless and unilateralist foreign policy
that the White House under George Bush relentlessly pursued, egged
on no doubt by neo-conservative thinking that provided the ideological
foundation for the Bush administration's policies.
By clinging to Bush's coat tails Prime Minister
Tony Blair ignored British public opinion and opposition in his
own Labour Party and found himself also stuck in the Iraqi quagmire.
Now a change of approach, a new direction is being
hinted at by President Bush having taken the scalp of Defence Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld for the failed Iraqi policy.
This has been forced on Bush by last week's election.
The suggestion of policy shift hinted at in Washington and the groping
for new ideas could be measured in terms of the votes that have
turned the tide of American politics.
Tony Blair has no such mid-term election before
he surrenders power to his successor unless one considers elections
in Scotland and Wales next May as a referendum on his policies which
have at times been adopted despite differences in the cabinet.
In the US, the Iraq war that was initially popular
has turned sour as huge mistakes were made and the body bags came
In the UK the war was never popular and Blair
has suffered because he tied his apron strings to the Bush White
While the Iraq war was a major factor in Bush
and Blair getting their comeuppance, it is not the only cause for
public anger. They were never too far from scandals in their administrations
and political parties.
Political leaders who shut their eyes to such
moral turpitude will be made to pay the ultimate price- public opprobrium,
in whatever way it is expressed.