Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Blair May Be about to Take a Vital Personnel Decision

Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Blair May Be about to Take a Vital Personnel Decision

Article excerpt

Oh, a Queen may love her subjects in her heart, and yet be dog-wearied of 'em in body and mind.' Thus one of the characters in Kipling's Rewards and Fairies; it is hard to believe that Her Majesty has not had similar thoughts at certain recent moments, especially about her subjects in the media.

But the question remains as to where those media stories came from; Mr Hague has implied that some of them were disseminated by Mr Blair's entourage, as part of a campaign of credit-milking. That claim is difficult to prove or disprove, for the evidence would consist of confidential discussions and discreet telephone calls, whose contents will remain a matter of conjecture.

In one respect, Mr Blair and his press spokesman, Alastair Campbell, seem to have behaved well. It was inevitable that the PM should be heavily involved - he is the Queen's first minister - and the Palace was entirely happy with the way that Mr Blair did his duty. Tony Blair himself used to be no ardent royalist and Alastair Campbell still less so, but that may have changed since they moved into Downing Street. They will have discovered, as every new prime minister does, the close working relationship which exists between the Palace and the private office in No. 10 plus the Cabinet Office. Viewed from that perspective, the monarchy seems an efficient part of the constitution as well as a dignified one. In his early days as PM, Mr Blair was happy to seek the advice of his predecessors and spoke regularly to John Major; he no doubt found the Queen to be a source of valuable guidance about his new responsibilities: she has the experience. Before 1 May, Mr Blair had not given the monarchy much thought; by now he will have.

But he is also and always a politician. A cricketing dean was unable to process through the nave of his cathedral without wondering whether it would take spin. Instinctively, Mr Blair asks himself the same question of any issue that arises. Over the Princess, the spinning started early.

Mr Blair knew immediately that the Princess's death would have a great impact, though even he was surprised by the intensity of the public response. Mr Campbell also understood the dramatic significance; he drafted Mr Blair's initial statement. Nothing wrong with that; in such circumstances a prime minister does not have time to craft the appropriate language. But both men knew what they were doing when they used the phrase `the people's princess'. It is also interesting that before Mr Blair made his tribute, Michael Brunson of ITN seemed to be clear as to what he was going to say.

Over the next few days, Messrs Blair and Campbell were in continuous contact with the Palace. But someone ensured that the media was aware of this and that Mr Blair's good advice did not go unnoticed. As for the various 'splits' stories, no one should underestimate the tabloids' cynicism, or their powers of invention.

Jon Snow is not a cynical man; nor does he invent stories. A couple of days before he made his allegations on Channel 4 about rows between Prince Charles and the Queen, he had dinner with Peter Mandelson. Mr Mandelson, who seemed unusually piano at a book launch party earlier in the week, has been questioned about what was said over dinner; he insists that Jon Snow was on transmit rather than receive. But not everyone is convinced that Mr Mandelson is blameless.

Peter Mandelson's activities during August had already shaken the confidence of some very senior figures in No. 10. The view was expressed that Mr Mandelson's principal asset had been competence; this has now been devalued. …

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