Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Should we Blame Blair for Labour's Crisis?

Author Robert Harris(pictured right) seems to bear the same sort of grudge against Blair as Falstaff did against Prince Hal and Lord Levy clearly does against his former patron and tennis partner. His is an odd article but intriguing. He blames Labour's spectacular implosion not on Gordon, but on Tony. Not because he has kept quiet and out of the way- he approves of all that, in the spirit of Baldwin who told his successor Chamberlain that he would neither 'spit on the deck or speak to the man at the wheel'.

He believes Blair never really took to the Commons as so many of his predecesors did; rather, he saw it as merely a means to an end in pursuit of his soaring career. Hence his decision to leave the Commons the day he left number 10. I tend to disagree with this. No-one who saw Blair at his dominant best could deny he was loving every minute of it. I tend to think he is genuinely trying to move on and genuinely not to 'spit on the deck'.

But Harris's main point may well have something in it: that with Blair gone, ('New') Labour seems to lack any purpose or raison d'etre. He's saying that the whole refashioning of the party was so much about finding the frontman and moulding the party around him, that now he has gone, Brown, together with his party, has collapsed into the resultant void. Why Brown has not been able to prevent this collapse is vividly, if partially explained, by these two quotations from Levy's memoirs:

1. I vividly recall an early Labour strategy meeting at which I first grasped the depth of Gordon Brown's anger and resentment towards Blair ... A hunched and dishevelled figure walked in, unceremoniously plopped himself down in a chair and, without so much as looking up, took out a pen and began scribbling notes. At the end, still having spoken not a word ... he rose and left"

2. Blair felt "Gordon was much better suited to waging a guerrilla war against him from No 11 than running the country once he moved into No 10"

In a word, yes.

If he had gone in 2003/4 as he repeatedly promised to do, and as in all conscience should have done in the wake of the death of Dr Kelly, Brown would have won a resounding victory in 2005 and secured his own mandate to renew Labour in government. His premiership would taken an entirely different course as a result.

Instead, Blair hung on until (1) the economy started to turn bad, (2) the Tories had regrouped under a plausible new leader, and (3) the New Labour brand was almost contaminated beyond recall - all of which made Brown's task well-nigh impossible.

Blair is also fundamentally to blame for the hollowing-out of the Labour membership, most of which occurred as a result of his insane decision to join the Iraq invasion.
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