Blair’s Labour dispute

A politician who leads his party back to power after 18 years in the wilderness, wins three successive elections, and succeeds in forcing the opposition to change its policies should be lionized by his own supporters, right? Not in Britain. Tony Blair has spent the last few days picking knives out of his front, back, ...

607234_BlairSad5.jpg
607234_BlairSad5.jpg

A politician who leads his party back to power after 18 years in the wilderness, wins three successive elections, and succeeds in forcing the opposition to change its policies should be lionized by his own supporters, right?

Not in Britain. Tony Blair has spent the last few days picking knives out of his front, back, and side. His internal critics are demanding that Blair announce the precise date of his departure - and now. One minister has resigned over Blair's failure to pre-book a removal van and Labour MPs are rushing to sign semi-open letters to the PM emphasizing that he specify the time and manner of his leaving. 

The whole flap is mildly absurd. Blair has said he won't fight the next election, will give his successor "ample time" to settle down, and his closest supporters are telling anyone who'll listen that he'll go soon after his tenth anniversary as PM in May 2007. Acolytes of Gordon Brown, Blair's almost guaranteed successor, worry that Blair will welch on this. But that isn't going to happen for the simple reason that Blair's popularity is not going to recover enough to let him even contemplate backtracking. 

A politician who leads his party back to power after 18 years in the wilderness, wins three successive elections, and succeeds in forcing the opposition to change its policies should be lionized by his own supporters, right?

Not in Britain. Tony Blair has spent the last few days picking knives out of his front, back, and side. His internal critics are demanding that Blair announce the precise date of his departure – and now. One minister has resigned over Blair’s failure to pre-book a removal van and Labour MPs are rushing to sign semi-open letters to the PM emphasizing that he specify the time and manner of his leaving. 

The whole flap is mildly absurd. Blair has said he won’t fight the next election, will give his successor “ample time” to settle down, and his closest supporters are telling anyone who’ll listen that he’ll go soon after his tenth anniversary as PM in May 2007. Acolytes of Gordon Brown, Blair’s almost guaranteed successor, worry that Blair will welch on this. But that isn’t going to happen for the simple reason that Blair’s popularity is not going to recover enough to let him even contemplate backtracking. 

The real winner in all this is David Cameron, the young new leader of the opposition. All of this maneuvering ensures that there will be plenty of bitterness in the Labour ranks for the foreseeable future and the British public are notoriously tough on divided parties. Cameron’s a winner in a more immediate sense too, as the current crisis knocked off the front page that on his trip to India, one of the vehicles in his entourage knocked down a poor Indian woman – not the kind of headlines that a leader desperately trying to demonstrate that Conservatives care wants. I’m surprised, though, that Cameron’s normally sure-footed spin team didn’t send him to the hospital to hold her hand. But then again, maybe, they wanted nothing to distract from the sight of the Labour party trying to remove its most electorally successful leader from office.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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