Tony Blair has seen better weeks. While he is still highly popular among Americans, his political standing at home is much diminished. On Wednesday, Blair lost his first parliamentary vote since becoming prime minister in 1997, when 49 Labour members revolted against his bid to extend time police can hold terrorism suspects without charges to 90 days from 14. The week before, the pensions minister, David Blunkett, had to quit the cabinet a second time over an embarrassing ethics scandal.
Blair has declared that his current term will be his last, and he is expected to step down in favour of the chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown. Anticipation of this succession is one reason that Blairâ€™s clout has been ebbing.
But the underlying problem is Blairâ€™s identification with Iraq war. Those who initially backed the decision did so mainly on the basis of Blairâ€™s claims that Iraq had weapons
programmes. When those claims proved empty, Blairâ€™s personal credibility took an enormous hit.
Blairâ€™s strength has been his way with words. But even before the Iraq fiasco, British listeners, were beginning to find him glib. Blair is not doomed to becoming a lame duck. But to avoid that, he will need to make peace with his party by adjusting his high-flying leadership style to the new political realities.