Magazine article The Spectator

What Really Happened to the Government This August

Magazine article The Spectator

What Really Happened to the Government This August

Article excerpt

It was fitting that Tony Blair of all our prime ministers should have been the one to speak to and for the nation as it awoke to so terribly altered a cultural landscape last Sunday. He is a modern politician in very much the same way as Diana, Princess of Wales fought to be a modern member of the royal family. It is `modernity', springing from deeply conservative roots, which characterises Mr Blair's politics, and for which the Princess will be remembered. The two also shared an ability to strike a sympathetic chord with a British public which felt them both to be, at heart, `ordinary people, just like us'. Of course, it was not true of either of them, but it was a rare gift that people should perceive it so. Like the Princess, though in a different way, Tony Blair can be a great communicator. Britain's first tabloid prime minister was the right man to express what we all felt about Britain's first tabloid princess.

Back in the quagmire of political life, the Princess's death has obliterated the questions which were being asked about Labour's 'bad' August. A view had been forming that the government had fallen apart over the summer because the Prime Minister had been on holiday. Only now he had returned could the rot be stopped.

It is worth noting at the outset that, while there is some truth in them, such comments are a bit rich when they come from the Opposition. A glimmer of inadvertent humour in this grim week came in Tuesday's Times headline: `Tories suspend all political activity'. Rarely has a stable door been slammed with such pompous gusto. The Tories have been more invisible this summer than any Opposition in the modern era; perhaps with good reason, but invisible nevertheless. And when they have shown their faces, they have made fools of themselves. There is no other way to describe it. Mr Hague, with his backwards cap at the funfair and coconut-slurping antics at the carnival, has been excruciating to behold. And only the third division nohopers who now make up the Parliamentary Conservative party's second rank have been worse. I have rarely been so embarrassed as when watching Sir Patrick Cormack, now deputy shadow Leader of the House after 27 years in Parliament, make what looked like his first stab at a television interview.

The Conservatives owe it to the nation to get their act together. A government this powerful needs to be opposed, and August, sloppy though it was, is already forgotten. Labour always spends August attacking itself and jostling for position on the National Executive, and no one can ever remember any of it by the time of the party conferences.

There is some merit in the argument that the government has suffered without the steady hand and sure touch of Mr Blair. If there were not, there would be no point in his being Prime Minister. The process of unravelling really began with the debacle of the `first hundred days' celebration. Press attention focused exclusively on what was presented as Peter Mandelson's sinisterly powerful role in government, particularly in the absence of the Prime Minister, rather than on Labour's achievements. Before he went on holiday, Mr Blair had privately made clear his personal view that to celebrate the first hundred days was triumphalist and premature. However, Mr Mandelson and, particularly, Mr Prescott were keen to do something which they knew would make a splash in the dog days of August. …

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