Monday, May 01, 2006

A Brown stain at the bottom?


I haven't posted much on the government's current troubles, partly because of the holiday weekend, partly because others have done it better and partly because I was waiting to see how things panned out. But there's something very interesting in all this, isn't there? It's not just an aimless government coming painfully to the end of its natural life in much the same way that the Major adminsitration did. The comparison with Major only works completely if one assumes that, say, Michael Heseltine had been waiting in the wings to take over from Major for years.

What's the one thing that unites the sudden avalanche of stories about Cabinet ministers fucking things up (literally, in one case)? Hewitt whimpers that the barracking at the RCN conference was 'organised'. Of course it was bloody organised - and very nicely, too! Anyway, it was her fault, she said they "might as well just shout at [her]". All this stuff about foreign prisoners has been going on for years, but suddenly it hits the news and Clarke wakes up from his post-prandial slumber, murmurs "what's happening?" and comes within a handshake of losing his ministerial car, only keeping his job thanks to some last minute obfuscation of the details (three weeks may not sound very last-minute, but that's a blink of an eye in the civil service). Similarly, Prescott's affair has been an open secret since it began, but never made the news.

What links Hewitt, Clarke, Reid (see below) and Prescott? Blairites all (although Prescott is said to straddle both camps). At a time like this one has to ask cui bono? Who stands to gain? The Tories, yes, although they could have gained from general government unpopularity anyway (or could if they weren't still such a lacklustre bunch). But the more likely beneficiary is Brown and his allies. Four (all right, three and a half) Blairites embarrassed simultaneously, a week before the local elections which may decide the future of Blair? Labour MPs lining up to press for a leadership challenge if things go badly on Thursday? Surely this is the first public shot fired by Brown at his own side.

But New Labour are even more skilled at media manipulation. Yesterday's news was full of Tracey and her gob full of Prescott's nob (sorry if you've just had lunch, send me your dry-cleaning bills), which left little time for Fungus the Bogeyman and none at all for Hewitt. Prior to that, there was a little flurry about a bit of dirt at John Reid's house, although that turned out not to be a reference to Dr Reid himself. Just the way New Labour would have wanted it - get the hopeless Hewitt off the front pages, buy some time for the Safety Elephant and let the two Johns take it on the chin. Let's face it, Tony's boys say to themselves, we've never liked Prescott anyway, let's hang him out for the slings and arrows. Bollocks to this idea that he's going to 'manage' the transfer of power, we're not going anywhere. As for Reid, he embarrassed us about smoking, let's get our own back.

(Questions hang over that Reid story: apparently the cannabis was found during a "routine sweep". If it had been there for 20 years, why hadn't it been discovered in similar sweeps? If it was 20 years old, it would have looked like a bit of dust - so why was it picked out and tested? Does it have anything to do with this man? John Reid's wife is a film-maker; I hate to malign my fellow professionals, but perhaps some of her friends came round for a 'party' one night, and forgot something? This is a story masquerading as a non-story masquerading as a story. I smell a New Labour rat: put out a mildly embarrassing story about a Cabinet minister, let another mildly embarrassing story run - both stories concerning things which the voting public don't feel warrant resignation by themselves - and cover up the genuine incompetence. There are more layers to this than your average pickled onion. Unless that onion's just been eaten by Fungus, of course.)

What we're witnessing here is a ruinous turf war between the two camps, who have both been simmering for years and years. Blair's down, his days are numbered, but no one knows what the number is. Tone himself wants to out-reign Thatcher, go the full twelve years. Brown's the only man who can win a fourth term (he still polls better than Cameron in some respects). With all this fighting on board, it's likely one of the two factions will blow a hole in the side and the entire ship will go down. Cameron may find himself in Number Ten without having to make any effort at all.

[EDIT: Handy summary of all the action from Davide Simonetti and how Blair has literally fucked everything up over at Backing Blair. Plus a list of links at Rachel's.]


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