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Special Report

Is the British Prime Minister's Re-Election Campaign in Trouble?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," May 2, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

BRIT HUME, HOST: The American pollster Mark Penn, who has advised Bill Clinton and is now advising Tony Blair, says the British election is sort of like inviting your presidential candidate to do the "Jerry Springer Show." British election campaigns may be shorter than those in this country, but they are every bit as brutal, if not more so, as Tony Blair is experiencing right now.

So how is he doing? Our own contributor, Michael Barone, senior editor at U.S. News, is there and joins me from London.

Michael, we got a little sampling of that. That looks pretty rough.

MICHAEL BARONE, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: Well, you should see Jeremy Paxman on BBC, Brit. He is a lot more ruder than you ever are.

HUME: Well, what about this? How much trouble is Blair in, or is he likely to make it?

BARONE: Well, I think there is a big difference from eight years ago when he was first elected. I was over here covering that campaign. And there was a sense of hope, a sense of optimism about Blair, that he represented a third way between old Labour and the Thatcher Conservatives.

And I think part of his problem now is that he is facing the attrition of having been in office eight years. That's as long as an American president lasts in the ordinary course of things if he's reelected.

And some of the things the students were talking there tonight were not about the Iraq war, which we have heard a lot about in the United States, and we've heard a lot about the opposition to Blair, but talking about, have you delivered on programs on education, on the National Health Service? Are services getting better?

Labour Party people say they are. Blair claims they are. The Conservatives and the left-wing Liberal Democrats say they are not. And there's a lot of discontent. Blair's standing is much weaker than four years ago. The "Telegraph"-YouGov poll showed him four years ago with a 52-percent positive as a party leader. It was down to, I think, 16 now.

HUME: Let's take a look at whatever polling we have here on this election. And obviously … to give us some sense of it. We see Labour is down 4 percentage points from 2001. Conservatives picked up — well, they are down a little bit, too. The Liberal Democrats have a little bit...

BARONE: They're down a little, too.

HUME: ... but the question is, what is that — I mean, you see that outline. Of course, these are votes going to be cast for the party, correct, not so much for the man, right?

BARONE: That's right. You vote in Britain in one of 660-some districts and you vote for your member of parliament. And then that member of parliament, he or increasingly she votes for the party leader for prime minister. So you don't vote directly for Blair or for Conservative Party leader Michael Howard or Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy.

HUME: So what is the current outlook? Is it that...

BARONE: Well the current outlook is that Blair is certainly likely to win. He still has a plurality. You can see the vote is down. The Labour people are worried whether turnout will be high. They want to get their marginal voters out there. Mark Penn and some of their other pollsters that are working on the Blair campaign have said that the race is close in marginals.

But the fact is, the Conservatives have not been able to break out of the 30 to 33 percent range that they have been in since really 1992 in the polls. They still have a lot of negatives that they haven't been able to overcome. And the districting plan heavily favors Labour.

If both parties got the same number of votes, the Labour and the Conservative Party, with the Lib Dems coming in at about 22, Labour would have a majority of about 84 seats in the parliament, according to the statistical models based on previous elections.

HUME: So what happens basically is that the votes spread out, and you can end up, even though you've got 38 percent of the public sentiment backing you, or whatever it is now, you still end up with a majority in the parliament, and he's safely back in office, right?

BARONE: Yes. He would safely be back in office. You would need a huge change against the Labour Party for Blair, bigger than anything that's been seen in the polls. What's ominous for Blair is that the Liberal Democrats, who are a left-wing party, anti-war, they want to spend more money than Blair does, they want to give more rights to immigrants and asylum-seekers, that party has been creeping upwards. And they are trying to get votes on the Iraq war.

The front-page of their Web site the other day was a picture of Tony Blair and George W. Bush, who is not a popular man in their constituencies. And they are hoping that they can knock Labour's vote down. Blair today, his message of the day was, "Hey, if you vote for the Liberal Democrats, you're going to get the Conservatives, the Tories in there." And the Lib Dems came back and said, "No, no Blair would still have a big margin anyway."

HUME: Let me ask this, Michael. How much of an issue is the Iraq war at this stage? Or has it receded as an issue?

BARONE: I think the Iraq war is not as big an issue as it was in our election in 2004 in the United States when on the NEP exit poll opinion on Iraq correlated more highly with voting choice than any other issue. It's not as big an issue here.

What it's a problem for Blair is that his credibility was hurt on that, on some of the claims that he made before the war about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He's been widely derided in the chattering classes for that. And that has come on top of credibility problems that he has had for his spin that he's often put on events.

HUME: All right. Michael Barone, great to have you. Thanks very much for checking in with us.

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