Tuesday, May 09, 2006

 

Tectonic Plates Now Shifting Rapidly

Some time ago I opined that the current situation was not comparable with the end of the Major years and that TB could still stay on close to the full term should he choose. The first piece of my analysis is still correct but the second, I fear, has been superseded by events. The appalling battering his government took in the run-up to the local elections followed by the poor results, the reshuffle which changed everybody and nothing, not to mention the crucial emergence of a credible alternative in the form of Cameron, has moved the situation from critical to highly dangerous for Blair and for Labour.

Only an extended period of calm reinforced by a series of positive news stories can extract Blair from the hole which he occupies. When Polly Toynbee effectively advises a ‘quick assassination’, and the Guardian editorial judges Blair’s show ‘has reached the end of its run’, then the time for Blair to go must be close. Jackie Ashley’s excellent piece yesterday analyzed the forces ranged against him- the Campaign Group, Compass(the group which denies its 'Old Labour'tag) and, crucially, the growing band of disaffected mainstream Labour MPs like John Denham and Nick Raynsford- and observed that while the reshuffle had moved the cabinet in his direction, the party has moved sharply in the other way. In email correspondence with me today, she doubts if he will remain in post ‘by the autumn conference’. That is questionable but what is not is that Tony Blair, despite his spirited rearguard action, is soon to defer to the inevitable and do what honour dictated after Hutton: stand down as prime minister.

The poll in the Times today provides worrying evidence of how far the rot has gone. The Tories are up to 38% while Labour has slumped to 30- the lowest they have been since 1992.Over a third now want him to go now; 72% thought the reshuffle a 'distraction'; and 82% were dissatisfied/disappointed with the government. However, even more worryingly, if Brown were leader Cameron's lead stretches to 41-31. 'The Tories have moved from being unelectable to potentially electable but power is still some way away.' says Peter Riddell.

In a vigorous defence of TB, novelist Robert Harris, suggests Blair should sack Brown and serve his full term- arguing that the latter-who stood no chance of winning in 1994- has been 'chronically disloyal' and should now pay the price. Persuasive as his article is, it whistles in the wind: things have gone too far for that. If anyone is going to be shown the door soon, it's not Gordon Brown. The real worry, for Labour supporters, is that after all his impatinet waiting, there will be precious little to inherit except a ruined political landscape. In such a situation Labour's credibility as a party of government will take much more than the 'ample', 'proper' and 'adequate' time Blair says he'll give his successor to 'establish' himself and prepare for the next election.

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