RACE IS ON FOR No10; Labour Facing Bitter Struggle to Replace Blair as Their Leader

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), October 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

RACE IS ON FOR No10; Labour Facing Bitter Struggle to Replace Blair as Their Leader


Byline: By Paul Sinclair Political Editor

FORGET Tony Blair's heart. For the first time, he has said he is going to step down. It doesn't matter when he says he will do it.

When a PM says the end is in sight, they have a problem.

The battle for the succession - never far away in politics - starts the moment you admit there will be a succession.

Chancellor Gordon Brown will have genuine concern for his friend of more than 20 years but he will also know his time is almost at hand.

Now he and Alan Milburn will begin their takeover battle. It is one which has been smouldering for some time.

But no one on Labour's front bench can compete with Brown's record - not just as the architect of New Labour's election victories but as the man who has built the economic success which is the foundation of the party's appeal.

Blair says he will serve a full third term but not a fourth.

Let's examine that. Prime Ministers like to hold elections every four years, not the full five they are allowed, so they are in control.

So when Blair says another full term, he means four years.

But to give his successor a chance to show what he or she can do, they must get at least a year as PM.

That means Blair does at most three years. But then there is the leadership election campaign. That will take at least four months if it is to be fair.

Suddenly, Blair is only at the helm for about two and a half years after the next election.

But his real problem is that a PM's authority begins to slip as soon as he admits he is going.

Nobody has said the election will be next May but we know we are in an election campaign.

By making this announcement, Blair has admitted there will be a leadership contest. That contest has now started - eroding his authority.

This week's Labour Party conference in Brighton was strangely subdued, particularly considering it was their last rallying call before the nation goes to the polls.

In part, that was because of the government's problems in Iraq. The shadow of the hostage Ken Bigley was long and dark.

What was striking was that Brown and Blair didn't have their usual competition during the conference.

The normal form - since Blair became leader after John Smith's death in 1994 - is that Brown gives a speech on the Monday which sets the conference alight.

That is perceived as a leadership bid and Blair comes back with a storming performance the next day and puts his rival in his place.

This year, Brown was more measured. His speech made it clear he was the man to succeed but not in the immediate future.

That gave Blair the space to make a speech which was low-key and came as close as he could to say sorry about Iraq.

In the light of the announcement about Blair's health, it now looks as though the two men came to a deal about their speeches and Brown must have known about Blair's imminent surgery.

It might also explain why Milburn was so hostile to Brown's speech, which he immediately criticised. …

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