Magazine article The Spectator

Happy with Either, Were T'other Dear Charmer out of Office

Magazine article The Spectator

Happy with Either, Were T'other Dear Charmer out of Office

Article excerpt

Reflecting on the sad position in which President Clinton finds himself, and the prospect that the time and energy of America's public life will now be focused on his iniquities, possibly for months, I thank God for our own political leaders. I can't remember any occasion before when I have felt so content with both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I am happy to be governed by either. Tony Blair and William Hague are both young, energetic, industrious, businesslike, open to ideas, eager to learn and acquire experience. Neither is a genius by any means, but both are consummate politicians able to use all the resources of the modern world, thoroughly at home in the Commons and on the hustings, yet able also to represent us with efficiency and dignity on a world stage. And they are, so far as I can tell, both decent, honourable, honest, truthful and anxious to do the right thing. They are likable too. So we are lucky.

It was characteristic of Blair to show sympathy with Clinton in his troubles. Blair is a good friend: loyal, understanding and dependable. He passes one of my main tests of manliness -- would I be happy to share a slit-trench with him? - though I fear I would have to give him some elementary instruction in the use of firearms: one of the difficulties about dealing with leaders nowadays, I find, is that they have not been in the army, and there are many points of reference we cannot share.

I liked Blair the first time I met him, when he came to lunch at my house, and my regard and affection for him have grown steadily. Of course I disagree with him about some things. I was deeply saddened when he and Frank Field parted company. I have known Field for much longer, and I have more respect for him than for anyone else in politics, except Lord Longford. However, the Prime Minister has explained to me why he and Field could not work together. I know Field is the Messianic type. But then Aneurin Bevan was the same, yet somehow Mr Attlee managed to get along with him - otherwise we would not have had the NHS, for sure. So I'm not entirely content with Blair's man-management in this case. But I accept his assurance that welfare reform will proceed with all deliberate speed.

What I particularly value in Blair, which makes me forgive things about his government I do not like, is that his gut reactions are sound. You can say that of few politicians of the post-war period. The only other ones I can think of are Churchill and Mrs Thatcher. Blair has a strong moral sense and it suffuses his responses, whether cerebral or emotional. His instincts are right. What he lacks, not often but sometimes, is the will to follow them. Being a good listener, he is inclined to allow himself to be persuaded into doing things, or permitting things, which his guts tell him are wrong. He lacks Margaret Thatcher's tyrannical obstinacy, her iron belief in her own rightness, which enabled her to discount advice from civil servants and colleagues, experts and wiseacres, Lords and Commons even, on occasion, public opinion - and follow her own maxim, `The lady's not for turning'.

Blair has the chance to become a great prime minister, an outstanding leader who will take Britain into the 21st century head erect, eyes alight, brain working overtime and with a warm heart. But to do this he will have to assert the prerogative which his own charisma and the voice of the nation have given him, and break some of his colleagues' bones. …

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