Saturday, September 02, 2006


I have a letter in the Times today, about the leadership comments Tony Blair made in yesterday’s interview.

Elsewhere, Martin Kettle has some thoughts on Labour’s predicament, arguing as I do that the succession’s timing matters less than the party’s overall direction. He suggests that “the forthcoming period of weak, terminal leadership under Blair actually offers a much better space for this necessary kind of Labour renewal than the period of strong new leadership under Brown”.

Well, maybe. There’s certainly nothing to lose (apart from some headlines about splits and rivalries) in discussing the future agenda rather than when we can get rid of Blair. One concern I have with this is that for a party renewal to really feel like a renewal, it would be better for it not to be associated with him. I’m not sure he grasps how severely public opinion has turned against him, meaning that there’s a risk of his unpopularity polluting any new political agenda he might try to steer.

Perhaps the answer would be just to start ignoring him. The party can have an unofficial debate about its direction – to a degree it already is – but without bothering either to involve him or to try forcing him out post-haste. Starve him of the oxygen of publicity and all that – I’m sure there are still some useful things he can quietly do in his last months of government. (Some want him out before next May’s Scottish and Welsh elections for fear of a bloodbath, but I think a mid-third-term government is going to get a pasting no matter who’s in charge, and it might be better to be able to scapegoat Blair for the losses.)

This is probably unrealistic; the personality issue is just too captivating for many of us to leave alone for long. And Blair’s current approach – saying vague things about leaving “ample time” for his successor and that he won’t “go on and on”, while ‘friends’ tell reporters off the record that he means to go next summer – won’t quell the speculation. This tactic relies for its success on the assumption that Blair and his anonymous briefers are well trusted. You reckon?


Matt M said...

Have you read Charles Clark's piece in the New Statesman? I was looking forward to it, but all it really amounted to was "Labour should keep doing what it's doing, but do it better".

As for Blair - I think a big part of the problem is that there are a lot of Labour MPs who want him gone as soon as possible, and aren't afraid of making their views public. As long as the party's split the way it is right now it seems impossible for them to move away from all the bad publicity. The media far prefer juicy stories of personal rivalry to writing about legislation - no matter how important it might be.

The only way I can see out of this for them, assuming Blair won't make a departure date public any time soon, is for some kind of deal to be done behind closed doors, placating the anti-Blair faction somehow. That way, most of the sniping could stop, and we could all start focusing on the issues again.

Tom Freeman said...

Yeah, I saw the Clarke piece - a reasonable enough judgement on where the government stands, but nothing really ground-breaking on the 'now what?'

I guess a private deal on a timetable could stop some of the sniping from Brown's people at least, although the dissent these days goes broader than it used to(and I gather their record on private deals ain't good).

A soft socialist said...

I don't want Blair to be forced out but I really don't think the labour party can take another year of infighting when we are meant to be the party of Government.

Matt M said...

I have to admit I'm in two minds about all this. The part of me interested in the ins and outs of politics wants to see as much drama as possible: infighting, new policies, radical changes, etc. But the part of me which knows there are serious everyday consequences for people obviously wants some stability and positive, if otherwise unremarkable, effects. It's like having a demon on one shoulder, hoping that Blair gets kicked out and perhaps the Conservatives win the next election, and an angel on the other hoping that they clear up this mess soon and start working on some effective policies...