So Tony Blair has now admitted for sure that this upcoming TUC and Labour Party Conference will be his last.
It’s hard to see how it will be enough though. As Doug Henderson said, “It doesn’t seem to me that the public knows any more about the PM’s retirement plans.” So, there is nothing to stop the opposition parties from using the uncertainty to undermine the Labour Party ahead of the next election.
What real difference has the PM’s announcement made? Everyone pretty much doubted that he’d still be around this time next year anyway. What the Labour Party needs is a fresh face to take us into the Scottish and Welsh elections, or we’re in danger of losing.
Gordon Brown hasn’t got the date that he was looking for. The Guardian reported this morning that Brown had asked for Blair to stand down by the end of the year (we’ll be in No. 10 by Xmas, lads). There is no doubt about it, Brown blinked. If the Channel 4 news is to be believed, the turnaround is so sharp that he is even going to rebuke Doug Henderson for his comments.
The most interesting question is why Brown blinked. Surely the most obvious reason is that it is Brown who will have to pick up the pieces after a political bloodbath, while the Blairites just don’t care about what happens to the Labour Party. A serious bout of infighting is the only way to get Blair to go this side of the May elections. It would be a horrible affair as Blair will not go until the leadership is prized from his cold dead hands.
There is now no question that Brown could take Blair out. There were rumours of “more senior” government figures threatening to resign if Blair did not move. Given the amount of time that Jack Straw spent with Blair, some people might wonder if it was he who threatened to resign. If that had have happened, Blair would have been finished, but it probably would have mortally damaged the Labour Party.
As a mark of the Blairites’ disregard for the future of the Labour Party, Charles Clarke has now said that Brown was, “stupid” to be pictured grinning as he left Downing Street. He also questioned whether Brown was fit to be Prime Minister. This, of course, will all be repeated when Brown eventually does become Prime Minister by the opposition, and as such, it is reckless.
So the bottom line is that Blair has come out of this skirmish damaged, but he’s won for now. He’s still got almost a year, despite the fact that (according to a Channel4/YouGov poll) 59% of LP members want him gone by May and 38% want him gone now. Blair’s outriders will continue to undermine not just Brown, but also the Labour Party.
It seems, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the discipline shown by the Blairites around ’97 was always conditional on their person being in the driving seat. As such, they are a danger to the Labour Party, and I hope their more sensible comrades like Ruth Kelly, will reign them in.