Murdoch offers Blair a timetable

“Febrile,” is how one of the sages of the British political scene described the mood at Westminster to me on my trip back to England. The slightest twitch from members of the New Labour hierarchy sparks off fevered speculation about the date of Tony Blair’s departure. Every political issue from the future of Britain’s nuclear ...

606865_Blair5.jpg
606865_Blair5.jpg

"Febrile," is how one of the sages of the British political scene described the mood at Westminster to me on my trip back to England. The slightest twitch from members of the New Labour hierarchy sparks off fevered speculation about the date of Tony Blair's departure. Every political issue from the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent to public sector pensions is now seen almost solely through the prism of when Blair will leave Downing Street.

One of Blair's key backers has thrown another couple of logs on the fire by making clear what his personal timetable is. Rupert Murdoch—who owns the newspaper of the British establishment, the country's most popular tabloid, and a twenty-four-hour UK news channel—has declared that he wants to see at least twelve to eighteen months of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister before the next election to give his readers (translation: R. Murdoch) time to decide. It's clear that Brown will have to earn Murdoch's backing, which is perceived as crucial by the political classes. (If you're in any doubt about Murdoch's perceived influence, just look at the list of speakers for his company retreat in July: Blair, Clinton, Gore, McCain, Bono.)

“Febrile,” is how one of the sages of the British political scene described the mood at Westminster to me on my trip back to England. The slightest twitch from members of the New Labour hierarchy sparks off fevered speculation about the date of Tony Blair’s departure. Every political issue from the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent to public sector pensions is now seen almost solely through the prism of when Blair will leave Downing Street.

One of Blair’s key backers has thrown another couple of logs on the fire

by making clear what his personal timetable is. Rupert Murdoch—who owns the newspaper of the British establishment, the country’s most popular tabloid, and a twenty-four-hour UK news channel—has declared that he wants to see at least twelve to eighteen months of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister before the next election to give his readers (translation: R. Murdoch) time to decide. It’s clear that Brown will have to earn Murdoch’s backing, which is perceived as crucial by the political classes. (If you’re in any doubt about Murdoch’s perceived influence, just look at the list of speakers for his company retreat in July: Blair, Clinton, Gore, McCain, Bono.)

Blair has said that he won’t fight the next election, due by 2010 at the latest, but that he intends to serve a full term. He’s also promised to leave ample time for Brown to bed himself in. These two positions are clearly incompatible and so the press analyzes every event for hints as to when the removal vans will turn up in Downing Street. Even with the World Cup dominating the headlines, there were still several outbreaks of departure fever during my recent visit.

No government likes to go to the polls at the last minute—there are no fixed terms in Britain, so one of the governing party’s major advantages is surprise. In all likelihood, this means that Blair would have to go by the fall of 2007, at the latest. But at the moment, that looks on the generous side, with the papers confidently predicting that Blair will announce at the Labour party conference this September that he’ll leave in May 2007, the tenth anniversary of his arrival in Downing Street. Then again Blair has had more political near death experiences than Rasputin.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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