WHEN TONY BLAIR makes a Commons statement about Iraq on Monday, the Blair loyalists will cheer him and the Tories will doubtless echo the praise for his strong and courageous leadership.
Yet the mood of his backbench troops may be less euphoric than the Prime Minister believes. I am not talking of the hard core of 40 left-wingers who already hated him before the war. The ones who matter are the mainstream MPs who form the bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). Many voted against the Government for the first time when they opposed the war; many who supported military action did so with a heavy heart.
Despite the dramatic events in Baghdad and a successful military campaign, Labour's war sceptics are in no mood to tell Mr Blair: "Sorry, you were right all along." Their silence since British troops went into action was sullen and should not be mistaken for support; most are unrepentant.
No weapons of mass destruction have been discovered yet. While there may be joy at the fall of Saddam Hussein, that was not the purpose of the exercise, in London, at any rate. Mr Blair is confident his "smoking gun" will eventually be found, if only because members of President Saddam's regime will lead coalition forces to the weapons in an attempt to save their own skins.
I am not sure the Blair inner circle appreciates that humanitarian relief and reconstruction is badly needed in the Labour Party as well as in Iraq. Mr Blair has nodded at the problem by appointing Ian McCartney as Labour chairman. He is among the few cabinet ministers on the same wavelength as party activists and the trade unions.
Now the Prime Minister is getting different advice from ultra- Blairites, urging him to use his strengthened position after the war to recast his Cabinet in a sweeping reshuffle that rewards those who remained loyal over Iraq.
As voters have heard mainly from Mr Blair about international affairs, the Blairites want to relaunch the New Labour project in a six-month domestic blitz running till Labour's autumn conference. It would include a new round of "bold" public-sector reforms. Some close colleagues even speculate an emboldened Mr Blair will call a snap euro referendum. I cannot see Gordon Brown allowing that.
Voters may like strong leadership. But we do not have a presidential system and our leaders need to carry their parties with them. Premierships end in tears when they fail to do so, as James Callaghan and Margaret …