Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blair, Trust and His Most Dangerous Moment Yet; Commentary

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blair, Trust and His Most Dangerous Moment Yet; Commentary

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER KELLNER

A DANGEROUS moment has arrived in the life of Tony Blair's government.

The stories of sleaze and spin, of ill-judged emails and dodgy donors, threaten to merge into a permanent stain on its reputation.

Alastair Campbell may well be able to furnish a detailed dossier that proves each allegation to be false. Public opinion is almost beyond caring. It has all but made up its mind. With a few exceptions, ministers are deemed to be guilty, and that's that.

This raises a question that goes beyond the debate about the probity of Downing Street, Black Rod and sections of the media. If most voters acquire the firm conviction that the Government cannot be trusted, what consequences flow for British politics over the next few years? Here are three predictions.

First, Mr Blair would have to banish all thoughts of joining the euro before the next election. History shows that referendums are slippery things. Yes, voters have a chance to take a specific decision on a matter of national importance. But they also have a golden opportunity to pass a wider verdict on the government of the day without actually throwing it out of office.

Mr Blair should view this power with foreboding at a time when the official opposition still looks groggy.

Asked whether they want him or Iain Duncan Smith to run Britain, most voters may well choose the status quo.

But invited to send a message to 10 Downing Street without going as far as evicting its tenant, the electorate is likely to deliver a mammoth raspberry.

That is the risk the Prime Minister would run with a euro-referendum next year unless he can regain voters' trust. The public is less than enthusiastic about the single currency. Even a popular government would have to work hard to win a Yes majority. An unpopular government would stand no chance.

Prediction number two: Labour will have to rethink its strategy for fighting the next general election. It will still hope that the economy will be up and the Tories down. However, the third plank of Labour's platform (the story the party intended to tell about our public services) looks like collapsing with dry rot. …

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