Sunday, September 03, 2006


Blair's refusal to step down could blight Labour's future generation of leaders

In the Observer today Ed Balls explains why he thinks the current transition of power can 'confound the history books' by being smooth. He points out that the economy is strong- a condition not there for Major, for example, and that the party is not racked by divisions on principle or ideology. We can accept his assurances on the economy- though a few cassandra voices question how sound it really is- but the party is surely split on one major question- is Tony Blair's remaining in power of any advantage to the future of the Labour government?

The Observer piece by Andrew Rawnsley today discusses the tenuousness of Blair's position while Martin Kettle in yesterday's Guardian suggested that if a 'renewal debate' is necessary for the party to continue in office and have a chance of winning in 2009, it might be best to have it in Blair's valedictory year. His reasoning is that during Brown's initial period in office he will wish to stamp his authority on the party and, if anything, rein in debate.

But it seems to me the most important voices on Labour's future are not those Blairites and Brownites who have vested interest in how long Tony stays or how soon Gordon arrives, but those of the next generation of party leaders, people like (the pictured) David Miliband or indeed, Ed Balls himself. They are the people who might have to sit out a long period of opposition if this transition goes pear-shaped and who, along with the less well- off nationwide, who have most to lose if, in the process, it deracinates Labour support for a generation or more.

Meanwhile I'm concerned that Blair seems to be planning to stay for a whole further year. The plummetting polls show how much damage his period at the helm has inflicted since his 2005 far from emphatic election victory. The Sunday Times' leader suggests Bair wants to leave on a 'political high' that Blair wants to leave on a high with his foreign policy looking hopeful and public services well on the way to being modernized successfully.
My fear is that this idea is as ephemeral as the blond highlights currently illuminating Blair's thinning hair. Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely, I'd venture, to become even more disastrous rather than less so a year hence and I have no faith that what often appears to be the terminal inefficiency of government under Blair will magically turn around between now and his assumed departure in a year's time.

And here's another suspicion I harbour: his determination to scupper Brown's chances will lead him to stay on even longer than a single year and that in the process politicians like Miliband, the hope of the future, will end up being chained to the opposition benches for most of their lives.

Will be more than a year, I expect Blair will stay until the start of 2008. And there is nothing these people can do about it. I am sure the left will embarrass him(and themselves) at the conference but nothing will change. Most of these people have opposed Blair the whole way, and their opinions don't really matter. Blair won an election and will not be leaving a year after this. Time to get over it. Most of these people will not benefit from the Brown takeover in any case. Their politics died thirty years ago. They just don't know it yet.
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