A couple of readers have questioned my remarks that most of Britain does not support its Prime Minister’s foreign policy, and (not unreasonably) commented along the lines of Major Dad in the post below, who says “let’s see what happens during the next election on your turf. If Tony Blair doesn’t win…then we’ll know that the majority of Britons do not back him”.

This seems logical. And yet I’m pretty sure Tony Blair will be Prime Minister even after the next election, despite his country’s disapproval. (Unless he is impeached first.)

Here’s why.

I don’t know how much non-Brits know (or care!) about our electoral process, but I’ll explain the background first so it makes sense. In Britain, we don’t elect our Prime Minister as an individual. We elect a political party, the leader of which is automatically made Prime Minister. Our election takes the form of regional voting for candidates to become Members of Parliament (MPs) and take “seats” in the House of Commons. This could be considered vaguely equivalent to the American election of senators. We have an overall process similar to the US electoral college system, in that it’s not the popular vote but the number of seats in Parliament which is counted. I’m comparing this to the American process only because theirs is probably the most recent high profile international election we’ve all witnessed.

The current British ruling party is the Labour party, which is theoretically a left of centre party, more or less equivalent to the American Democrats. Before Tony Blair became the leader, the country had been ruled by the Conservative party (also known as the Tory party) for 18 long years. Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister for the majority of that time. You see, there’s no time limit on length of service, unlike America’s maximum two term presidency (for example).

Before they ever reached power, Tony Blair’s rise to leadership took Labour in a new direction, away from their traditional support of unions and the working class and much further towards support of big business and the middle and upper classes. With Blair’s generation of Labour politicians, the party was completely transformed. It won with a huge landslide in 1997, taking an enormous majority of seats in Parliament. This resounding victory came about partly because the electorate were impressed with Blair’s seemingly pluralist vision, and partly because the country was so tired of the dire economic and social consequences of the Conservative government.

Labour’s massive majority meant that it had a virtual dictatorship in Parliament, because its own MPs were present in sufficient numbers to pass any law it saw fit. The usual cross-party opposition was nullified by sheer numbers. As a result, a lot of shocking amendments to British law have come into force despite vociferous opposition, purely because Labour have unilateral power at times when it really counts. Few Labour MPs dare to vote against Blair’s bills, even at times when they strongly oppose the official party line and go whining off-record to the press about what a dictator Tony is. In Westminster, government is supposed to be a team effort. But if a leader can coerce his subordinates into supporting things they don’t believe in, through careerist self interest or a trade-off for future participation, then the governmental process can actually be dictated by one individual. MPs have to resign (as even members of Blair’s Cabinet did over the Iraq invasion) in order to make their point. Although Labour’s majority was slightly reduced in the next General Election, it remains substantial.

Here’s the important part: there is no real, credible opposition to the Labour party at this time. Voters may hate Blair’s foreign policy, his obsequiousness to Bush and his arrogant disregard for public outrage, but that’ll just lead to voter apathy and the usual low election turnout (around 47% on average). When there’s no obvious successor, people will shrug and say “Well, what’s the point of bothering? What difference will it make?”

And, sadly, most people have quite enough to deal with in their busy modern lives without having to spend more time and energy feeling angry, taking direct action, and so on. (Although a million of those were sufficiently motivated to travel to London to march against the Iraq invasion last year, in a country of around 57 million people in total. It was one of the largest public protests in British political history. Blair ignored it.)

And what of the parties who are supposedly in opposition?

The Conservative party were all but destroyed by their 1997 defeat. Their membership is now comprised mainly of aristocrats and upper class pensioners. They’re considered a public joke. Their current leader, Michael Howard, is slightly more credible than his predecessors, but they still don’t have an Iraqi’s chance in Fallujah of forming the next government.

The third party, the Liberal Democrats, have pretty much taken over the unofficial position of left wing opposition, as Labour’s shift to the right has only pushed the Conservatives even further right (give or take the odd anomalous policy, like opposing tuition fees). But the Liberal Democrats are a comparatively young party and, despite increasing support, their best hope is to become the official opposition party (i.e. attain second place in a General Election).

So where does that leave Britain?

The Labour Party has one other option. Gordon Brown, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been tipped to take over from Blair ever since the party came to power. Legend has it that the two made an arrangement for Blair to be PM for two terms and then step down to make way for Brown. Blair later reneged on this and announced that he has no intention of stepping down. He says he will stand for a third term and retire after that. Brown has gone from Blair’s closest political friend to his most dangerous enemy, and the Labour party has been polarised into two camps: supporters of Blair and supporters of Brown. Privately, many feel Blair’s days are numbered and that Brown will take over from him shortly after the next General Election, at the latest. This is probably Britain’s only hope of ousting Blair in the near future, unless a dynamic opposition rises swiftly to eclipse him.

There’s no guarantee that Brown’s policies will be any less horrifying than Blair’s, or that he will take America’s side over Europe’s less frequently. But he has opposed Blair on a number of key issues. It’s a tiny shred of hope, but nothing substantial.

What it all boils down to is this: the “choice” we get is no choice at all. That goes for America too. Choose one corporate-wooing, warmongering conservative agenda… or choose the other. What’s the difference? It’s a choice between cornflakes and Rice Krispies. So-called democracy is anything but.

This is why I prefer to remain outside party politics, which are at best a smug charade designed to convince ordinary people that they have any say whatsoever in the running of their country, the spending of their money and the deployment of their defence systems.

What really matters is the inherent contradictions in our definition of “democracy”. If we stop being distracted by the petty bickering of our three almost identical main political parties, we might start coming up with some imaginative solutions to our global crisis.