Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

If you are not part of the 'selectorate', you feel annoyed at the suggestion that Gordon Brown can become prime minister by acclamation and without a general election. It is not so much that another candidate might be better -- though I rather like the look of Alan Johnson, the Trade and Industry Secretary -- it is just that a party's choice of leader is a very different thing from running the country. The country should decide on the latter. Of party leaders since the war chosen while in government only Harold Macmillan could be accounted any sort of success. The others were Anthony Eden, Alec Douglas-Home, Jim Callaghan and John Major. The ones who kept winning elections -- Wilson, Thatcher and Blair -- were all chosen in opposition. It is Eden that Brown most resembles, in that he has been the impatient yet almost unchallenged heir for years and years. Eden's particular area of expertise was foreign policy, but he gave us Suez. Brown's acclaimed skill is economic management, but he is at last admitting that his own predictions of growth cannot be sustained. His omens are not good.

Against all evidence, however, including Mr Brown's brimming confidence, this column clings to the idea that Tony Blair will not, in fact, step down before the next election. This view is based on the simple belief that when Mr Blair absolutely, categorically promises something, he does the opposite ('at our best when at our boldest').

My thesis will be proved wrong, though, if the desire for money overcomes the love of power. After a few years, prime ministers always develop the view that they are poor, and indeed they are, compared with the money they could make if they left office. Mr and Mrs Blair have a notable fondness for the company, houses and holidays of the rich, and if they calculate that all these could be theirs if only they could become Bill and Hillary Clinton-style celebrities on the world stage, I expect they are right. It is hard to see how the Blairs could afford their mortgage on their house in Connaught Square unless they felt confident of a memoir deal (or two memoir deals? ). This cue from the top may explain why it has become ever harder to prevent ex-advisers, etc. , from publishing their diaries and memoirs so soon after they leave government. The diaries of Lance Price, which are being serialised in the Mail on Sunday, are a good example. They are highly enjoyable, completely indefensible breaches of trust by a former Downing Street adviser.

You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh as Shaun Woodward tells Tony Blair that if he is to defect to the Labour party he must be given a ministerial job to placate his wife, Camilla. Mr Blair and Price arrange for a fictitious telephone call from the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, to break up Shaun's tearful monologue. As we are solemnly assured this week that the IRA have got rid of all weapons, I wonder if the peace process itself shouldn't be entered for the Booker Prize. Shaun Woodward, by the way, is now a minister in the Northern Ireland Office.

Inalmost all church services there are 'intercessions', informal prayers, often led by a member of the congregation, for the world and its people. There are always prayers for the sick of the parish, many of whom are named. Now, I gather, the instruction has gone out to Catholic churches that this last practice must cease. …

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