All entries for Friday 01 September 2006

September 01, 2006

Tony Blair's lost the plot

Cherie and the QueenEvery September, the Prime Minister joins the Queen on her late summer holiday to Balmoral in Scotland. It’s a trip that Cherie Blair clearly enjoys (see right), and it was assumed that this year would probably be her last.

But last night Tony Blair came back from Barbados with a bombshell for the Labour Party: he’s not about to announce his resignation at the party conference, and people should stop talking about when it’ll happen.

He’s stark-raving bonkers then.

More and more Tony Blair is acting as if he’s completely lost touch with reality and the wishes of those who put him in power in the first place. The country is tired of him, his party is tired of him, and every day he spends in power is another that the Conservatives seem to be gaining ground on Labour (in fact recent polls have put them several % ahead).

What exactly is there left for Blair to achieve that no-one else can manage? His most recent idea seems to be an increase in the use and power of ASBOs – an arrangement met with derision wherever it is mentioned, and irrelevant to the majority of people who find anti-social behaviour taking place on their doorstep.

Meanwhile David Cameron launches a campaign with Friends of the Earth in order to beat climate change, with tough targets that rival Arnie’s measures in California. It makes Blair’s visit there last month seem very hollow, and shows him to be far more in touch with the public’s concerns (and how to meet them) than Blair’s strange priorities.

But if Blair and Brown were the joint co-authors of New Labour and the ‘third way’ (which they weren’t), then surely Brown would be equally capable of taking over the reins and finishing what Blair started? Blair’s raison d’etre diminishes every time he comes on camera: his time is running out, there are plenty of people who could do the job as well as him, and they probably wouldn’t shed support from the public on a daily basis.

Ultimately, whatever he and his successor may do, it appears to be increasingly in vain. The ‘New Conservatives’ have taken a completely different approach to winning people over, not necessarily announcing policies, but certainly sending the right signals about where Britain should be heading. Labour, on the other hand, seems to be incapable of creating similar new ideas (or at least packaging them in a fresh way). It’s as if they’ve become so entwined with the bureaucracy that they run that the party machine has got stuck and is getting rusty.

There’s a statistic which might help to explain this: the number of government press officers has trebled since 1997. Why? Are we three times better informed? No.

The former editor of the (left-wing) New Statesman, Peter Wilby, seems to have got it right when he said that Labour will almost certainly lose the next election. But I’m not entirely sure it’ll be a good thing, as he suggests. If Labour can renew itself – and do so quickly – then they might be able to become a force for good again. But at the moment the war of attrition between Blair and the rest of the party is preventing Labour from making Britain better.


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