Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Blair holds the whip-hand over Brown

A couple of years ago, More 4 broadcast a drama called “The Trial of Tony Blair”. This was set in 2010 when Blair had supposedly clung onto office until the dying days of the parliament before resigning. There are a series of events which culminate in Brown winning the subsequent election but only with a very small majority.

Aside from the fact that nothing like this has actually happened, there were some things about the drama that always bugged me and suggested to me that writer did not really have a proper feel for the dynamics in the upper echelons of power. Or if he did, he chose to ignore them as he thought it would make better television. I disagree with this and I felt that parts of the resultant programme just came across as plain silly.

The reason I am writing about this now is because I was reminded of how sharply the dynamic between Blair and Brown has diverged from that assumed by that programme in recent days. I will come back to this in a minute but first I wanted to cite a couple of examples that I can remember of where the drama did not seem to get “it”:

  1. Blair gets very hurt and cannot understand why he is not wanted to be associated with in the election campaign. This is absolute nonsense. Tony Blair is the most gifted politician of his generation and although his antennae was losing its precision sharpness towards the end of his premiership, there is absolutely no way that he would not understand the political realities in the situation as depicted. No way. And the credibility of the programme suffered almost from the outset.
  2. Blair and Cherie are supposedly having financial problems. How any writer could think that we would credibly believe that a UK PM would be in anything other than a robust financial position soon after leaving office is beyond me, as has indeed proved to be the case. I seem to recall this was supposedly fuelled in part by his publisher (for his memoirs) not wishing to pay very much money. Again, a load of bollocks.

The final thing which to be honest totally ruined the programme for me was the assumption that once Blair was no longer PM, that he would be beholden to Brown in some way and that Brown would hold power over him. That seems to be to betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the interplay between current and former premiers of the same party. Had the author not followed the saga of Heath trying (unsuccessully) to damage Thatcher or Thacther trying (somewhat more successfully) to undermine Major’s leadership.

The truth is (and was always bound to be) that Tony Blair is in an incredibly powerful position right now with respect to Gordon Brown and the Labour Party’s prospects at the next election. He has taken a decision to not publish his memoirs until Gordon Brown has left office and has (mainly) been guarded in what he has said in public about his successor. There has been the odd exception such as this last week where he let slip that the decade of economic growth may have been down to “luck”. This was probably an ill-judged joke rather than an attempt to damage Brown but the hoo-haa that has followed underlines what I am talking about. If Tony Blair wished to he could effectively destroy Brown’s chances of winning the next election. Of course his own reputation would be severely damaged as well and doubtless this is the main part of the calculation as to why he will not do it.

I just wish that dramas like this were a bit more in tune with this sort of reality. Although many in the public may not instinctively understand this, I am sure there were many who found the narrative structure jarring even if they did not exactly know why and as a result it felt lightweight.

Ah! That feels better. That has been in the back of my mind for 2 years now!


BlairSupporter said...

Good article. Clear thinking.

As for the reason that Blair will not "diss" on Brown I'dlike to add these thoughts:

1. Blair does not DO dissing. Really. Think about it. When have you heard him criticising colleagues? It's not in his nature no matter what his critics like to suggest he really thinks.

2. If he allowed others to express his unease over Brown and the reasons for Brown, the press would put 2 & 2 together quickly. He will NOT do this until Brown is out of office, if ever (because of reason 1).

And probably most importantly -

3. To Blair (& Brown) the New Labour project is much bigger than either of them. They may or may not hate each other, but they hate the Left of Labour backward-dreamers even more.

I think Blair is more powerful than Brown ANYWAY. His day is likely to come again, unusual itself in politics.

Mark said...

Thanks for the comments.

I am not sure that he does not "do dissing". There were lots of briefings about colleagues when he was PM. Just because it was not happening in public does not mean it was not happening.

I agree to an extent about number 3. In fact that reason also makes a mockery of the programme showing Brown throwing Blair to the wolves of the international war crimes tribunal. The poltical class in the country do not operate like that. They would close ranks immediately, even across political parties.

As for your final point, I very much doubt Blair's day will come again. He had his decade and things move on.