Fallout for Tony Blair

William Hoge, "Blair Is So Down He's Up" (New York Times, 3/23/03):

Mr. Blair himself has remained steadfastly loyal to Mr. Bush in private as well as in public, but high-ranking members of his government say that the blunt comments that have come out of Washington have repeatedly undermined their efforts to reason with critics of America here.

In contrast to the custom in Washington of keeping presidents at a distance from forums and audiences that might embarrass them, Mr. Blair has actively sought out opponents to try to press home the unpopular American position. He has withstood heckling and a peculiar British form of speaker abuse known as slow hand-clapping. . . .

Britain, a country of 60 million people who buy 14 million newspapers a day, has one of the world's most aggressively competitive presses, and British newspapers are hard on prime ministers in normal times. In the current political atmosphere of Labor domination, they have taken on an added edge, assigning themselves the role of the opposition in British political life that the weakened Conservative Party is unable to fulfill.

But last week there was a notable break in the harsh treatment. The day after Mr. Blair gave the speech of his life in the House of Commons and managed to contain the Labor rebellion, The Independent, a relentless enemy of his war stance, published an editorial with unblushing language suggesting that Mr. Blair's lonely struggle, which seemed to be leaving him isolated and adrift, may have instead worn down his detractors and earned him begrudging respect.