Moth in a Spider’s Web

Argus title : Caught in a Web of Blair’s Deceit

Over the years Blair has regularly picked fights with his party to ingratiate himself with the Murdoch press. This time, however, he engaged in a protracted love-in with his audience. It matters not how many were actually Labour Party members. If his intention was to upstage Gordon Brown and show the public the presentational strengths the Labour Party is about to lose, he succeeded.

The leaked memo from Blair’s aides which set out the plan for his departure suggested he should leave with the people “wanting more”. If so, this was achieved.  

The event was a masterpiece of stage-management from the line of applauding young people positioned along his route to the conference hall to the scrawled messages on posters held up in the audience.  

I was reminded of that day almost 10 years ago, when the newly-elected Tony Blair arrived with Cherie at Downing Street, surrounded by cheering members of the public who just happened to have a supply of union flags to wave. It later emerged that almost all were party hacks.  

Gordon Brown doesn’t have anything like that presentational flair, but he needs to acquire some and fast. Unless he does Tony’s ‘long goodbye’ will bury him.

Blair’s aides are planning a series of interviews and appearances to laud his achievements. These will afford countless opportunities for Blair to sparkle at Brown’s expense.

He will receive acclaim both for his successes and because he is leaving. On previous form, he’s likely to use this as an excuse to hang on as long as possible. 

In the wake of the positive response he received to his speech, it is reported that he now intends to stay until the summer. Yet he knows that many in the party are desperate for him to go before the May elections. He is an electoral liability. 

Gordon Brown, as his possible successor, is between a rock and a hard place. The Blairites have extraordinary control of the national media. If Brown praises Blair too little he is presented as disloyal and hungry for power. If he praises him too effusively he is thought – and called – a liar. If he distances himself to any degree from Blair’s policies he is accused of being uncommitted to New Labour, but if he fails to do so, public trust ebbs away.  Absolute loyalty to Blair is demanded of Brown and his supporters, but the Blairites show none to him.

If there are moves to unseat Blair he will be blamed. Yet Blair will take advantage of his quiescence to stay and stay. The precursors of New Labour used to accuse Trotskyists in the Labour Party of demanding things they knew the Labour Party and the parliamentary party would never be able to deliver, with the aim of destabilising the party and any government it might lead. It has been grimly amusing to watch the Blairites adopt just such an approach to Gordon Brown.

After the first great sacrifice when Brown was persuaded to give up his leadership bid in favour of Blair, greater and greater demands have been made of him.

He has had the possibility of succession endlessly dangled before him. The price of Blair’s elusive support, regularly promised and later withdrawn, has become ever higher. Each test of loyalty has been followed by another test of loyalty and nothing is ever quite good enough. Over the years, public mistrust of Blair has grown, fueled by scandals about cash for influence and cash for honours; lavish free holidays abroad and fears about rampant NHS privatisation at home; and above all a craven foreign policy leading us into a bloody and disastrous war in the Middle East based upon a lie.

Through it all, public confidence in Gordon Brown has remained remarkably steady. Over the past few years the public, when polled, has judged him more trustworthy than Tony Blair. However, since the last general election, public confidence in Brown has begun to shift. As Blair approached the end of his second term – the date by which Blair had allegedly agreed to stand down and offer support to Brown – Brown started to come under relentless personal attack by supporters of the prime minister.

More than one called on Blair to sack him. He was excluded from the election campaign in humiliating circumstances and brought in only when it became clear it was failing. Blair faced widespread hostility and Brown was needed to reassure both party members and the public. There’s no doubt that many people opposed to the Iraq war voted Labour believing Blair was soon to go.

However, shortly before the election took place Blair stated that he intended to serve a full term. Following the election he suggested he personally had won a mandate to continue. Brown, who had played such a key role in the victory, was side-lined once again. Brown should have distanced himself from Blair, but he did not – and for the first time began to be accused of weakness and vacillation.

The renewal of Trident and the invasion of Lebanon provided the opportunity to step back from Blair. But Brown appeared to endorse the first and said nothing about the second.Over the years Brown has been goaded almost beyond endurance, but the public are losing sympathy with his apparent willingness to endure Blairite abuse. Paradoxically, actions which may well have issued from loyalty and a sense of duty to the party, have combined to make him appear cravenly ambitious.

He has given the impression that he will do or say anything to gain Blair’s support. Brown’s speech to conference did little to help. He used it to reassure Blairites on policy issues and to counter the rumours – assiduously spread by Blairites – that he is a control freak with ‘character flaws’. As a result, it sounded flat and insincere, very different from his previous barnstorming speeches to conference.The political landscape has changed significantly since the accession of David Cameron as leader of the Conservatives.

He provides the possibility of an alternative prime minister willing to deliver a Tory version of the ‘Blair project’ and he has the advantage of being able to do so untrammeled by either the scruples of Gordon Brown or the concerns of Labour Party activists.

Small wonder that there are strong suspicions that some of those around Blair would prefer Labour to lose than to have Gordon Brown as leader.It is a commonplace to say that there is no significant difference between Blair and Brown’s politics. However, if that were really the case Brown would not be facing such ferocious hostility. He is being corralled into statements of support for increasingly Right-wing policies, yet the hard Right politicians around Blair simply don’t believe he would deliver them to their satisfaction. What is interesting about Brown is that he is so difficult to read. He may be weak and vacillating.

Or he may, as he says, be motivated by a strong faith and a sense of duty. If so, it is hardly surprising that this should create deep unease amongst Blairites.Brown and the Blairites may share an overall commitment to New Labour policies, but if the values which underpin them are significantly different, policies are likely to be implemented in very different ways. It appears Brown is a politician who cannot be bought. But this potentially makes him dangerous to the sort of people who buy and are bought – whether their interest is in communications, casinos, oil, luxurious living, the exercise of power or the conduct of war.

Tony Blair’s uncritical support has been very valuable to the U.S. administration under President Bush. Bush will want to ensure that the next prime minister is as compliant.

Though Brown is pro-American he is closer to Labour’s traditional allies the Democrats than the Republican Neo-conservatives. He can expect little support from the White House so long as the neo-Cons are there.The forces swirling around Brown are more powerful than any we are likely to understand and the vested interests involved so great that no dirty trick or machination will be out of bounds. It is greatly to be hoped that he has competent and independent security advisers about him.

In the past I have likened Brown to a chained and baited bear. Now he seems more like an enormous moth struggling in a spider’s web. 

It is in all our interest that the baleful influence of the man who spun it is broken – and broken soon.

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