So, James has stolen my thunder somewhat by writing about the Blair-Porter debate in last weekend’s Observer. Drat. Still, I think it’s an interesting enough piece to provide the basis for another piece of commentary, particularly given Labour’s horrendous past week and the hysterical press response thus provoked.
I’ll agree with our esteemed Web Editor that the PM’s statements in the exchange of emails were, um, pretty disturbing. He does seem to think that people are guilty until proven innocent, which is worrying enough. (Although I approach the question from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum to James.) More worrying for me is the Prime Minister’s increasing tendency to vilify whole swathes of public and professional opinion with little or no basis. According to Blair, the political and legal establishment are wrong. Judges make their judgements and set their sentences with no regard for their political implications (as if politics ought to impinge on the concept of justice) and everyone is, generally, out of touch with ‘the public mood’.
You see, whilst everyone else is cowering from the tough decisions that the public really does want to see made, Tony has an amazing and intuitive understanding as to What The People Want and How Best It Can Be Achieved. Mr Blair’s appeals to this anonymous public effectively trump all press and political criticism: neither group wants to be seen as out of touch or as arguing against the mighty public will. The trouble is this is no way to win an argument; yet increasingly, it is the method being used by Blair in all his decisions – cf. Iraq, education or health. Blair is right. The backbenchers are wrong. History will be his judge – or, in the case of Iraq, God will be.
This argument-by-assertion seems a particularly strange mistake for a former barrister to make. Moreover, it suggests that the path of reason is now closed to Mr Blair: he won’t go any time soon, much as many of his opponents might hope it.
All the better for Gordon Brown. Blair’s assumed successor can still find uses for the Prime Minister. Chief among them must be the pushing through of reforms that, whilst unpopular with powerful groups, are at least some degree supported by the Chancellor (notice his silence on issues such as job cuts in the NHS or new health and education reforms; indeed, the Treasury is allegedly one of the prime motivators of some ‘efficiency cuts’). If Tony and his hated deputies do the dirty work, Gordon can step into Blair’s shoes, cull them all, and give the impression of freshness that he so vitally needs to win the next election.
Blair-haters, then, shouldn’t expect to see the back of the Prime Minister any time soon. His commitment to seeing his reforms through means both that he won’t be forced out and that his successor won’t want to. Yet.