MAESTRO OF SELF-DELUSION; Ignore Education Decline, Tax Rises, the Collapse of His European Dream, the Immigration Shambles and Mounting Social Problems ... Mr Blair Seems to Have Obtained a Divorce from Ordinary Cares and Real People While Occupying a World of His Own into Which Only the Almighty, Cherie, George Bush and a Handful of Apostles May Intrude
Byline: MAX HASTINGS
CONSIDER a historical cameo of Blairism. In 1802, a European ambassador in St Petersburg described a mass baptism beside a hole in the ice of the frozen river Neva.
The bearded Russian patriarch conducting the ceremony dropped an infant whose body plunged into the depths, never to be seen again. 'Davoi drugoi,' intoned the archbishop impassively. 'Pass me another.' Omitting only the black beard, here was a performance immediately identifiable with our Prime Minister. Yesterday, Tony Blair was perhaps the only person in Labour's conference hall at Brighton apparently oblivious that he has presided over a national disaster, the war in Iraq, together with a host of lesser failures.
'We have been change-makers,' he proclaimed proudly, 'and that is what we must stay. It is a privilege to be Prime Minister of such a country.' From far, far away - from some mountain infinitely more remote than the stage on which he stood - he delivered the gospel to us common mortals.
Accept we must stick out his war. Ignore the decline of our education system, looming tax rises, the collapse of his European dream, the chaos of the immigration system, the budgetstarved Armed Forces, ever-mounting social problems, disappointed hopes and broken promises.
'Davoi drugoi,' demands Tony Blair.
Pass him another infant.
He is determined to go on and on, not merely because his wife has so much more shopping to do, but because he believes that triumphant vindication of his premiership lies just over the horizon.
LIKE some 15th century flat-earth navigator who sailed ever onward, confident that eventually he would reach the edge of the world, Blair thinks another year or two, or three, will secure his legacy.
The British people will perceive that our schools and hospitals are getting better.
Europe will start looking good again. Democracy will take root in Iraq. Tony Blair's status will be confirmed as one of the foremost statesmen of our time.
And, of course, he keeps for that much longer the delicious sweetmeats of power: outriders and helicopters, deferential aides and secret reports, obsequious colleagues and splendid residences.
'Why should he give up?' a Tory veteran, who himself came tantalisingly close to the premiership, said to me recently.
'He's got the best job there is.' For all Gordon Brown's relentless public pacing of the steps of 10 Downing Street, the Chancellor seems to have no clue how to evict the sitting tenant. That tenant yesterday served notice that no offer of compensation will induce him to pack his bags before he chooses.
A year ago, many of us asserted that the last phase of the Blair era had begun, that it was hard to see how the British people, or even the Labour Party, could profit from the Prime Minister's continuance in office much past the General Election.
Yet here we all are, approaching the end of 2005, and not a single minister or commentator in Brighton is willing to wager that Blair will be gone next year, never mind this one.
He addressed conference yesterday as a man convinced that only he can continue the visionary struggle to make Britain safe for Blairism.
'Nothing good comes easy,' he said. 'You just have to persevere.' He spoke with the fervour of a leader auditioning to fight his first General Election, rather than just past his last one.
It is extraordinary, is it not?
The polls show public respect for Blair once more waning after the brief upsurge following the London bombings, yet his self-belief remains impregnable. 'Government is not just a state of office, it is a state of mind,' he said dreamily.
We may suspect that President Bush's compact with God is at least partly cynical.
The Prime Minister's equivalent arrangement is not. He is sincerely convinced that he represents the forces of virtue, and that only heretics do not recognise this. …