Thursday, November 10, 2005


Now what has Blair done?

Since my last post on Blair things have moved on like Hurricane Katrina. The decision to go to the brink on 90 days has proved to be a huge misjudgement. Not only has it reinforced Howard's jibe about Blair's authority 'haemorrhaging' but it has posed additional questions about his political judgement. I even wondered if he had acquired Ron Davies's fabled addiction to risk situations. The whips had told him before last weekend that he could not win on this issue and Clarke announced a compromise would need to be sought. Then Blair gave a gung ho press conference on Monday, addressed the parliamentary party in similar vein and suddenly there was no going back. Blair seemed to anticpate defeat in his 'lose and be right' comment, but the eventual scale of that defeat was beathtaking. 31 is awhole lot more than the single vote majority won on the 'glorifying terorism' clause last week.

To make matters worse, he recalled Brown from the tarmac in Israel to come back, vote and use his considerable influence to help win the vote. I note Clarke claimed on Today this morning that it was he and not the PM who insisted on the retention of the clause with no compromise but most columnists assume it was Blair's doing. Was it worth the effort? I honestly think not. Pegging back to 65 or even 42 days would not have cost a great deal to the viability of the measure and would have saved a shed load of credibility. Over the last two years, we are told, only 11 people have been detained up to the full fourteen days. It really did seem unnecessary.

Is this the end? Probably not, given Blair's amazing ability to bounce back: talk about our version of the 'Comeback Kid'. A period of calmness plus some goodish headlines and Blair could rise again. Another trrorist attack would do wonders for him it is perhaps morbid to reflect. But any further body-blows in the next week or so and Gordon can start to wrap up his crockery and put it in tea chests for the big move.

From one point of view the events of yesterday proved that the Commons is not a cypher; it can intervene and deliver a very bloody nose to a prime minister out of touch with feeling in his own party and too inclined to back his own judgement over that of others. Such reflections are unlikely to assuage the feelings of a deeply wounded Tony Blair as he considers the now hugely reduced chances of winning party consent to his plans for education, health and benefits.

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