Monday, May 08, 2006

Thatcher's child


I'd just like to say hello to all who are visiting this blog for the first time, especially those of you who came here via Tim Worstall's BritBlog round-up. Tim kindly included my rant about Kitty Ussher's condescending (is there any other adjective to describe New Labour? Well, I suppose there's 'spineless', 'drifting', 'morally bankrupt', 'two-faced' and 'scumbag' to start with) piece in the Guardian about how there was nothing to worry about in the local elections, and how everyone likes New Labour really, if only they could bring themselves to say it.

Anyway, Kitty's protestations look a bit hollow now, seeing that Labour not only failed to gain control of Burnley Council, but lost five seats to the LibDems. OK, the BNP only managed to pick up one seat, but they still have six councillors. And her claim that it wouldn't be electoral meltdown for Labour looks a thin given the headlines about Blair's fragility. And Andrew Slaughter must have known he was holding back the tide when he begged his few constituents in Hammersmith & Fulham to turn out, for that council went blue (if you ever walk down the scruffy King Street of a Saturday evening, remind yourself that this is a Tory council and a Tory constituency and shake your head in amazement).

Speaking of Blair and his future... I've been thinking a lot about the man lately (yes, I have a strong stomach). It's occurred to me that his real motivation in staying on is not sorting out the NHS or resolving the pensions crisis. It's not even fear of having to find somewhere for Cherie's cosmetics in the new pad. No, Blair has one very simple aim: outlast Thatcher. Do read on, by clicking below.

Thatcher's spell as Prime Minister began on 4 May 1979 and ended on 28 November 1990 (oh, happy day, I remember it well). That's eleven years and (doodles on envelope) 208 days. For Blair to exceed that, he would have to step down on 27 November 2008 (taking his start date as 2 May 1997). That's still two and a half years away, by the end of which time even Jonathan Powell, his Chief of Staff, will be sick of him.

Blair wants to wipe out memories of Labour government failings in the past and establish an unbeatable record of enduring Labour tenure in office. This he has probably already achieved, far surpassing the former record of six years held by the Attlee and Wilson administrations. However, since he regards himself as Labour's saviour and since New Labour is inextricably associated with Blair and his personality, he has made the fatal Louis XIV error of confusing himself with the regime he leads (although Roi Louis probably never actually said: "L'état, c'est moi"). Thatcher is still seen by Tories (and by many countries outside Britain) as the benchmark of greatness - Blair wants to take her mantle. This is why he has been so driven to keep everyone 'on message'. However, unlike many previous absolutists, he has one disadvantage - he can't have anyone shot. The worst he can do to a rebel is sack him (Dobson, Short, Cook) or expel him (Livingstone). The target is rapidly receding out of his reach.

Another disadvantage he has is that times have changed. People are more fickle towards political parties and governments than they used to be. As consumer choice has proliferated, as brands have multiplied, so people have come to demand satisfaction sooner and come to grow tired of their choices sooner. Thatcher was ruling at a time when these things were changing - Blair has come to power at a time when this change is established. It's simply harder to go on and on and on, when the inevitable mistakes and shortcomings of government are exposed more than ever before thanks to greater media communication. To stay at the top for a long time one must re-invent oneself, which Blair has singularly failed to do. He's no longer the young, confident, firm leader that came so soberly to power in 1997. His youth has been usurped by Cameron (and Cherie's probably too old for another baby now - although you never know), his confidence has been undermined by public and backbench opposition, and his firmness now looks like intransigence (and probably is).

Blair's private ambition is at odds with his public standing. (Note: Godwin's Law coming up.) Just as Hitler was forced to retreat into his bunker and surround himself with one new loyalist after another in order to shore up his belief that he could prevail, so Blair cushions himself from reality by pulling his few remaining allies closer to him, dismissing any talk of a timetable for a hand-over, and clutching at the few straws that suggest he has a chance of making it through the next two and a half years. Meanwhile, Brown, Goering-like (I'm going to stop the Nazi analogies now, they're making me uncomfortable), is finding his arm forced by his supporters into assuming real control while his leader froths at the mouth and issues increasingly impossible orders. Of course, the Chancellor has problems of his own, but more on them in another post.

The odds at Political Betting put Blair as almost certain to go over this summer. Not even ten years. Imagine how he'll feel. Imagine how Cherie will feel when she has to pay for her own haircuts.

Crisis? What crisis?


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