I’ve been sort of vaguely expecting that Tony Blair’s troubles would fade with the arrival of the warm weather and that, by conference time, he’d be secure again and ready for at least another year of office. I’ve been blithely (and largely unconsciously, I think) dismissing each new crisis – each new horrifying misstep more like – as the exaggerated product of the malign anti-Blair media’s bitter campaign against the PM and only incidentally a result of anything he’s done himself. So I suppose I’m a loyalist. I’m not stupid, though and I think an important threshold has been passed
I’m now mentally preparing myself for a Brown premiership. If I’m honest I’d say that it’s Brown’s succession that I’ve really been blocking out, rather than Blair’s passing. I’m worried. I think Tony’s dour neighbour is so lacking in the PM’s preternatural charm and quite awesome ability to absorb criticism (Blair seems to soak up disapproval and convert it to pure, undissipated energy), that putting Brown in sole charge of the action will directly threaten Labour’s hold on power.
Of course this is ironic since it’s really Labour’s Constant Chancellor we’ve got to thank for the visible and positive change in our schools and hospitals and for the large and important improvement in the circumstances of poor families and pensioners since 1997. The last couple of days seem to support the idea of a managed transition, as if they’ve got their heads together and sorted out an orderly process. Blair’s speech at Reuters yesterday reads like a valedictory, like the speech of a man preparing for his next role, perhaps running a transnational body – or founding a new one – I think he may be too big or too politically unsuitable for all the current ones.
Maybe Blair’s the man to set up the institute (agency? Force?) designed to do all the intervening in local wars and against dictators and demagogues that his speech proposes: shall we call it ‘UN 2.0’? Brown’s budget, likewise, sounds final: expansive, bravura redistributive showbiz, a grand, confident, proprietorial gesture. “I’m ready for my close-up Mr De Mille”. I’m certain now that Blair’s departure is imminent and I expect it’ll be done and dusted before the Autumn. An election early in the Summer recess would put Brown in place in time for conference and allow Blair at least a month or two to tie up those loose ends (and God knows, there are some loose ends…).