Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blair's Bicycle Is Made for Two

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Blair's Bicycle Is Made for Two

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Linford

Last autumn, in a coup which stunned the political establishment, Tony Blair announced he would serve one more term as Prime Minister, then stand down shortly before the election after next.

Chancellor Gordon Brown, who had been led to believe Mr Blair would be going sooner than that, was said to be shocked and angry, not least because he was given no prior notice of the announcement.

The snub came hard on the heels of the appointment of Darlington MP Alan Milburn as Labour's election campaign co-ordinator ( a duty performed by Mr Brown to great effect in 1997 and 2001.

Relations between New Labour's big two were then as bad as they had ever been, with rumour upon rumour that the Chancellor would be sacked or moved to the Foreign Office if Mr Blair secured a third term.

Some of the specific stories ( like the one that had South Shields MP David Miliband pencilled-in as the next Chancellor of the Exchequer ( were always likely to be wide of the mark.

But I don't believe the rumours were entirely unfounded.

After all, I myself wrote as long ago as the summer of 2003 that Mr Blair would shift Mr Brown if he got the opportunity.

The point, though, is that it was always contingent on the Prime Minister securing another big win that would give him the necessary political authority to move against his old rival.

And that, it has become clear in the few days since the official election announcement was made on Tuesday, is now looking less and less likely.

It should not be forgotten that when Mr Milburn was originally appointed, Labour was around ten points ahead in the opinion polls and seemingly headed for another landslide of the 1997/2001 variety.

But the cold reality dawned on Tuesday morning, with the publication of a series of polls showing Labour, at best, three points ahead, and in one case, trailing five points behind the Tories.

Suddenly, it became clear this was going to be no serene stroll to another three-figure triumph, but a tight battle in which the result could be genuinely in doubt.

If Mr Blair appeared somewhat strained on the steps of Number 10 on Tuesday, it was probably because he was wondering why he was even holding an election in such unpropitious circumstances.

For make no mistake, if these polls are accurate, Labour could actually lose on May 5 ( at least in terms of the popular vote if not the number of seats.

Nothing that happens over the next four weeks will alter the hard electoral fact that the Conservatives will need to be around nine points ahead in the share of the vote to secure a majority, and that still seems unlikely.

But a result which saw both parties score in the mid-to-low 30s could see Labour's majority reduced to wafer-thin proportions, or worse, wiped out altogether. …

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