Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Brighton

Has anyone considered the serious possibility that the three most determined Iraq war leaders will all be reelected? George Bush, and John Howard in Australia, are ahead in their polls, and Tony Blair is in a pretty good position for this stage of a Parliament. I have great faith in Mr Blair's ability to watch the way the hinge of history is swinging and get on the right side of the door. He knows that a Labour refusal to be the tough party in the 'war against terrorism' would eventually land his party in the same soup that unilateral nuclear disarmament drowned them in 25 years ago. By making Labour the anti-terrorist party he leaves the Tories high and dry. Here is the simplest way to understand everything he does - he calculates how to make sure that the Conservatives will be left with nothing to say on a subject, and acts accordingly. It may not be a noble principle of leadership, but it seems to work. I think it will succeed one more time.

The Blair speech here was very full of talk of leadership. No one is more autobiographical, not to say egocentric, than our Prime Minister. 'I don't think that as human being, as a family man, I've changed at all,' he confided in the listening millions. 'But I have changed as a leader. I have come to realise that caring in politics isn't really about "caring". It's about doing what you think is right and sticking to it.' This reverie was to serve his argument about Iraq. But another of Mr Blair's skills is not to display any leadership at all. His government is now forcing through a complete ban on hunting by semi-constitutional means, but his speech didn't contain a word about it and his spin is that he wishes there would be a compromise. He could effect a compromise overnight, but he won't. This is the leadership pioneered by Pontius Pilate.

Arriving here in our hunt bus, we have the rather thrilling experience of 'social exclusion'. Huge numbers of police - the Sussex men much better behaved than the Met boys in Parliament Square stand in rank after rank to keep us back. Powerful and sometimes rich people in suits stare pale-faced out at us from the windows of heavily guarded buildings. MPs with enormous pensions scurry past terriermen on £8,000 a year. Gerald Kaufman scuffles with protesters. I particularly enjoyed a scene of a fat Welsh politician and his entourage encountering some of his prohunting compatriots ('Don't you dare touch me!' etc.). The Daily Telegraph was holding a fringe meeting at the Thistle Hotel to be addressed by Alan Milburn. At the last minute, Mr Milburn said he couldn't come because of the nasty rough people on the promenade. Won't Cabinet ministers have to be a little bit braver if they are going to win the 'war against terrorism'?

Many welcome the fact that a delegation from the Muslim Council of Britain flew to Iraq to try to secure the release of Kenneth Bigley. Few noticed the terms in which their appeal for that release was couched. The terrorists should let Mr Bigley go, it said, because he was an innocent 'victim', just like the residents of Fallujah when under American attack. Does it follow from that that if Mr Bigley had been a British soldier rather than an engineer (and therefore not 'innocent'), the MCB would not have called for his release? …

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