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?