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Brit airs views on Bush, Blair

Lecture will address strange partnership between the leaders

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Alec Russell

Alec Russell

Britain's Tony Blair is George Bush's "poodle," and Blair will likely step down as prime minister within the next 18 months, according to British journalist Alec Russell.

Listeners to KUER (FM-90.1) Tuesday at 10:45 a.m. will get to hear much more of Russell's views on the "odd couple" relationship between Bush and Blair. He'll be speaking as part of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute forum.

Russell has been a journalist since 1990 and from 1998 to 2003 he was based in London — he is currently chief for the Daily Telegraph's Washington Bureau. He has extensively covered both leaders.

Bush and Blair, he said over the phone, have forged the closest relationship since the Reagan/Thatcher days.

"In Britain, it's seen as a completely bizarre relationship," Russell said.

To many, Blair seems more like another Clinton figure, "center/left" on issues, "touchy-feely," while Bush is the right-wing Republican who drives home his views on traditional family values.

But they always come together on one thing, Russell added, "and that is the idea of intervention." That means both lead from the standpoint that if there is something wrong in the world, "you do something about it," Russell said. Whether either leader's intentions are more selfish, he added, is the topic of great debate.

On the subject of intervening in the world's affairs, Bush might be compared to Woodrow Wilson while Blair might be paired with 19th century prime minister William Ewart Gladstone, according to Russell.

Bush and Blair also share the bond of strong Christian beliefs, although Blair does not wear his faith on his sleeve, Russell said.

Side by side, Russell said, Blair comes off as more "slick" or refined while Bush isn't exactly known for being a great orator. And the longer the two stand together politically, the worse Blair's standing gets among his people and in his Labor Party, Russell added.

"President Bush is hugely unpopular in Britain," he said. "It's a very strange affair."

Outside of politics, the two may actually be genuine friends, Russell said. Blair has even adopted a kind of Bush "swagger," sporting jeans with his thumbs in the pockets in public, wanting apparently to project an image of vigor and love of the outdoors.

But the writing may be on the wall, with the recent selection of the good-looking, media-savvy David Cameron as the leader of Britain's Conservative Party, which has lost the last three elections to Blair, Russell noted.

If the Labor Party wants to keep someone in the prime minister seat, Blair may step down well before the next election in 2010, perhaps giving Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer, also called finance minister, time to become loved by voters, Russell said.

"I think he realizes it's time to go," Russell said of Blair.

In the meantime, Bush isn't getting much respect in Britain while Blair can do no wrong in this country, according to Russell.

After Blair leaves the world stage, Russell said the prime minister likely will make "huge" sums of money on the lecture circuit and occasionally drop in on Bush to prove to the world they were indeed friends.

Russell said that his Hinckley forum appearance will also focus on the future of U.S. and U.K. relations, and anti-Americanism among Europeans, many of whom see documentary filmmaker Michael Moore as the only one who seems willing to tell the truth about America.


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com