History has a knack of repeating itself, and the government looks like it’s locked into a downward spiral back to opposition.
Did Tony Blair make a fatal mistake when he announced his intention to step down at the end of his third term? I suppose it was designed to prevent a mutiny from Gordon Brown supporters by laying out a clear timetable for the handover of power, but it seems to have forever weakened the power of the Prime Minister.
This week the cabinet has been in open warfare over Ruth Kelly’s White Paper on education, with John Prescott barely pretending to be happy in rare photographs The Guardian released of that fateful meeting. No doubt many Labour backbenchers will be right behind him, and they have a point. Whilst there are positive aspects to the plans, the whole thing feels rushed and not enough is being done to prevent schools from falling into the hands of dangerous benefactors who would like to teach creationism in the morning and abstinence in the afternoons.
Meanwhile we’ve been going backwards and forwards at dazzling speed over smoking in public places. First pubs and clubs that didn’t serve food were exempted, then they weren’t, now they are again. (No one seems to have decided what exactly counts as food anyway. Peanuts anyone?) And at the same time as a crackdown on smoking, we’re seeing a relaxation on drinking… no wait… now we’re cracking down on drinking again! This time on public transport – sensible enough – but it’s hardly joined up government.
Ironically, at least the criticism that Blair is a control freak is now fading. With his authority openly being questioned by those with one eye on their job until a Brown premiership, he seems to be driving himself further and further away from the rest of his party. Even David Blunkett, his arch supporter, is now engaged in a feud over benefit reform.
Cabinet squabbles, a weakened leader, no clear sense of direction… remind you of anything? Oh yeah, that’s right, it’s exactly the same as the dying days of John Major. And back then, a renewed opposition was busy coming out of the darkness and re-emerging as a revived political force. Under a youthful, popular leader. Ring any bells? Because unless David Davis pulls off a miracle, David Cameron will be leading the Conservatives soon.
David Cameron. He’s the Tory you can’t really dislike, even if you try, because he does genuinely seem like a nice guy. He may have gone to Eton and belong to an exclusive gentleman’s club in London, but yet has managed to come over with the popular appeal Davis hasn’t even heard of. The speed at which Cameron is ripping up Tory tradition is also admirable.
There’s no doubt that I’d rather have Cameron as PM than Davis any day – the latter having just announced, for example, that he’d like to bring back grammar schools. (Maybe hanging will be next, or returning to pounds shilling and pence?) A moderniser, even a Tory moderniser, is better than someone who wants to repeat the failed policies of the past.
I still support Gordon Brown, of course. And in a battle between Brown and Cameron, I think Labour would still have a good chance of winning, however tough it might be. But if the party continues to self destruct, they’ll have no chance by the time of the next election, and Tony Blair will deserve his share of the blame.
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