In Britain, a far-right push threatens Tony Blair
Thursday's vote for local councils will gauge views on Labour Party's government and immigration policy.
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"The problem for right-wing parties is that it's very easy for their opponents to paint them as 'the next Hitler,' " says Paul Whiteley, a professor of government at the University of Essex. "But at the same time for the younger generation 1930s fascism is now ancient history."Skip to next paragraph
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Richard Barnbrook, the BNP's London election coordinator, said voters were now no longer embarrassed about declaring their allegiance. "Three to four years ago voters didn't like to say that they might vote BNP," he says. "But now people are happy to say they vote BNP and they don't care who knows it."
Political analysts caution that it will take more than a good result in Thursday's vote to confirm the BNP's ascendancy.
"The far-right has always been a minor player in the UK so what's happening is a historic change," says Mr. Whiteley. "But the question is whether these new BNP supporters will become regular, long-term supporters of the party or is this just a one-off protest vote?"
It's the protest vote that Blair is wary of as well. Two years ago, local polls produced the poorest showing for Labour - barely a quarter of the vote - and notably led to Blair having a "wobble" about whether to stay in office.
Four months later he announced he would step down after another term. He has since admitted this pre-announcement of his retirement was a mistake, as it has resulted in febrile speculation as to when exactly he will step aside.
Some Labour MPs feel that he should go sooner rather than later to give his successor, presumed to be finance chief Gordon Brown, plenty of time to prepare for the next general election in 2009.
Dr. Gibson says a poor result Thursday will multiply calls for a speedy handover. "There will be many people [who] will be pressing for a date to be finalized, a program of succession to the throne," says Gibson. "Depending on [the] result there could be some very harsh words. I'd like the handover date to be this September. We need a rebranding of the party in things like health, education, and pensions before the next election."
But John Rentoul, a biographer of Tony Blair and political commentator, cautioned that many MPs, however disgruntled, see little point in changing horses.
"It's not the same as 1990, when Margaret Thatcher has some bad local election results and was out of office within months, because she was patently leading her party to defeat in a general election. That's not the case with Blair.
"I don't think the government has lost the will to live," he adds. "Blair is still very energetic and irrepressible."
That was certainly the case in parliament Wednesday when Blair fended off attacks about the prisoner scandal and defended his record by listing his achievements over nine years: a solid economy, low unemployment and inflation, a minimum wage, and higher benefits for pensioners and poor families. "Many people in this country are grateful for the progress that has been made," he said.
Just how grateful remains to be seen.