Magazine article The Spectator

Why That Interview with Mr Humphrys Will Be Seen to Have Done the Trick

Magazine article The Spectator

Why That Interview with Mr Humphrys Will Be Seen to Have Done the Trick

Article excerpt

The extremist wing of the Blairite praetorian guard is saying that the Formula One fiasco is a blessing in disguise. And what a disguise; the Minister without Portfolio may have called it a bushfire, but it has certainly managed to present itself as something of an inferno. The ultras do have more specific meanings in mind, though. The first and most startling is a belief that the Prime Minister's management of the last few weeks' events has enhanced his stature.

True, Mr Blair's performance with John Humphrys on the BBC's On the Record was outstanding. Commentators who have adversely criticised him for the detail, sometimes vague and inconsistent, of what he said have missed the point. It is the broad-brush messages and semaphore signals which are important, and on this level the interview was a triumph. In terms of tone and language the PM got it exactly right, exuding humility, contrition and hurt integrity. The vast bulk of the population will not, as the press do, immediately mark down a discount because they know that such was his only intention. It was a bravura performance which will come to be seen largely to have done the trick.

Which does not alter the absurdity of arguing that the performance was so good that it is a positive bonus for Labour that the opportunity arose. There are only so many times -- about nine, I'd say - that you can do that sort of thing and get away with it; ask John Major. Mr Blair has now used up one of his lives, which must be worrying barely six months after a landslide.

More credible is the Blairite storm troopers' claim that the embarrassment of the Ecclestone affair is a price worth paying for its advancement of the sacred cause of state funding of political parties. There do exist Blairite ne plus super-ultras who hold that state funding, unpopular as it is, will not be necessary in the golden glow of the next century's New Politics, where Labour, subsuming the Liberals, has gobbled up such a gargantuan portion of the centre ground as to permanently marginalise the Conservatives. In this scenario, New Labour, as the natural party of government, attracts all the business bucks which used to go to the Tories. This is not only rose-coloured, it is based on a misconception. Captains of industry do not give to the Tories because of what the party might deliver for the company, but because they all went to the same schools.

The mainstream Blairite view, which includes the PM himself, is that state funding is the only realistic route for Labour once the financial ties with the trade unions have been cut. Lest anyone be in any doubt, complete severance of all institutional links between Labour and the trade unions is a non-negotiable Blairite article of faith. Logically, however, it is not substantively integral to the New Labour project, and as such the unions plan to fight bitterly to retain some formal link. Their view is that it is only Mr Blair himself and his immediate lieutenants who are implacably committed to cutting what they see as a Gordian knot. If the unions can only weather the current storm, they believe their history will be safe in a post-Blairite future. This is probably true: there is nobody else in the Blair Cabinet who as leader would feel it necessary completely to detach from the unions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.