Monday, June 20, 2005

 

Will Labour implode after Blair?

It's hard to resist comparing the faltering progress of the Conservatives with Labour in the mid eighties. One can almost feel the Tories yearning for a Blair type saviour who'll explode onto the scene, drive through the necessary changes and rout the opposition party at the same time. But while the comparison is appropriate to a degree, like most comparisons, it falls down in detail. In the eighties Labour had been routed by a leader who knew what she wanted and to whom the nation was listening. They had to wheel about impotently for many years until a leader and a direction arrived. The Conservatives face a leader who is not listened to by the nation but who is more in tune with it notwithstanding. That he is dominant is more to do with the voting system than the popularity of his policies.

So is it likely Labour will implode into factional introspection once Blair has gone? I don't think so. The chief reason is that Labour has a natural successor in waiting. Thatcher never groomed such a person though there were a number who were annointed by the press as her current 'favourite' from John Moore to Cecil Parkinson and much good it did them. This is not to say that Blair has done much or indeed any grooming of his own. It's just that Gordon was narrowly pipped at the post and has never felt the race was over. Thatcher maybe never felt sufficiently secure to select a successor but, then again, which PM has ever been? Churchill held Eden at arms length for years before letting him commit his signal crime of Suez and enter the old folk's home of retired premiers at perhaps an unseemly young age.

Thatcher's strengths were also her weaknesses. She grabbed the party and shook it up like never before; afterwards it was never the same and has been left floating, unable to find the ground beneath its feet. So Labour is in the enviable position of anticipating-perhaps with some pleasure- a smooth transition to a new leader to be followed by an extended further period in government. For the Tories the agony is likely to continue for a while yet.

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