Monday, November 07, 2005



Jackie Ashley wrote an interesting recent article in the Guardian when she talked of the Conservatives trying to separate Blair from his party. This has already attracted the term 'decoupling' and has been mentioned by Blair himself at his press conference. The reasons why this possibility has been raised are that:

a) Blair has never been that close to the Labour Party. That posh school and accent, Oxbridge education and stint as a barrister, not to mention his penchant for rich friends and uber-luxurious holidays enjoyed free at their expense, have all emphasised the difference between the present leader and previous: Wilson and his HP sauce; Attlee being driven(badly) by his wife around the country during campaigns with sandwiches packed for lunch.

b) Blair has advocated with great enthusiasm a strand of Tory thinking as the way to reform the welfare state, indeed most of the public services: the injection of more market forces. While Blair insists, his party resists. But the Conservatives say they agree with Blair, and are inclined to support him; in fact, should they get into power, they would ratchet up such private involvement in the public to a degree way, way beyond Labour's. That's how much they agree with him. In other words Blair is speaking the same language as the Tories and by agreeing with him they are exposing and reinforcing the distance bewtween leader and led.

c) Blair seems to be concerned, some say obsessed, with his 'legacy', with leaving something substantial that the future will associate with his period in power; rather like Attlee and the Welfare State; Churchill and his victory over Hitler. Given this determination and the finite period of time remaining for Blair, the Tories hope to use the pressure Blair is putting himself under to drive a division between Labour and the leader Roy Hattersley insists in today's Guardian, was never really Labour anyway.

Can they succeed? Certainly they can and to some extent are already doing so. But they need to be a little more ambitious in encouraging Blair to flout the sensibilities of his party. The more Blair rows with party rebels, the more Tory stock will rise. The Labour escape route, of course, is to shift in Gordon Brown sharpish. The dour, Labour history worshipping son of the Manse would soon disperse the champagne decadence of rightward swinging Tony and his acquisitive wife. If Tony succumbs to too much decoupling and comes off worst against Marshall Andrews and his ilk, Gordon can think pretty soon about whether calling Pickfords, or, given that it's only next door, Salford Van Hire plus a couple of arse- licking acolytes.

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