Thursday, May 10, 2007

Nellie Blair

He does like saying goodbye does our Tony. After last year's conference speech, not to mention the original sign-off, now some 900 days ago, today's bravura performance was a thing to behold. Lip a-quiver, chin a-tremble he managed to be full of both braggadacio and a rather nauseating apologia pro vita sua. He even managed to sound an almost Rhodesian note.
The British are special - the world knows it, in our innermost thoughts we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth.
As if to demonstrate the opposite, the Sedgefield crowds waved hand-written placards reading "Sedgefield Loves Tony", "10 Great Years", "Thank You" and "Britain is Better", the only question being by whose hands they were written. Ming Campbell demonstrated the instinctive patriotism of the Liberal Democrats by describing Blair's description of his, and Campbell's, country as the greatest in the world as chauvinist.
Over all it's hard to be sure who'll be happiest at Blair's departure, scheduled by happy chance for the day after my birthday, the Conservatives or the Labour Party. William Hague was right when he said that Blair was really the most dangerous opponent the Conservative Party has ever had partly because of his ability to persuade people that he is really, secretly a Conservative even though he is leader of the Labour Party. For it will be Blair's ability to persuade his audience that, really, he agrees with you that will be his defining charactersitic. From Paddy Ashdown and Roy Jenkins over Lib-Lab coalitions and PR, to the simultaneous courting of the Independent and The Sun over Europe, Blair has always managed to make his 'true' feelings known.
Yet in truth it was something of an uneasy coalition between Blair, an instinctive modernist, delighting in change for its own sake, and a Labour Party that has a tradition of preferring unpopular ideological purity to the messy practicalities of politics. Looking at the Labour Party today, Blair seems closer to left-wing Conservative figures like Chris Patten, Ken Clarke or Michael Heseltine than he does to Ken Livingstone, John McDonnell or even Roy Hattersley.
One prediction I will make. The first problem encountered by the new Gordon Brown Government; the first time opponents need to be charmed or the media placated: that's when the realisation will hit the Labour Party - they have just defenestrated the finest presentational politician of his generation.

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