Why Blair Fears a Visit from the Boys in Blue; ON POLITICS AND POWER

Daily Mail (London), November 11, 2006 | Go to article overview

Why Blair Fears a Visit from the Boys in Blue; ON POLITICS AND POWER


Byline: PETER OBORNE

FRANKLY it is hard to overestimate the gravity of the two disasters that have hammered poor Tony Blair in what has turned into a horrible week for the Prime Minister.

The first was George W. Bush's electoral humiliation in the United States.

Tony Blair has structured the second half of his premiership around building the closest possible alliance with the U.S. President. But now Bush is an irrelevant figure, virtually an international pariah, morally and politically bankrupt.

That means Tony Blair has suffered the same fate - a deadly serious scenario because it leaves Britain and America adrift at a time of crisis in world affairs.

The second disaster is personal. Over the past few days it has emerged that the police investigation into the cash for peerages scandal is far more serious than anyone had realised.

It has become apparent that the Downing Street fundraiser Michael Levy is not prepared to tell lies in order to protect the Prime Minister. The police seem to have made several incriminating discoveries which make prosecution much more likely. Most dangerous of all, it is now obvious that Mr Blair, and nobody else, is at the heart of the investigation.

This is nothing short of terrifying for a man who came to high office nine years ago pledging a new honesty and decency in politics. My Downing Street sources say the Prime Minister suffered something close to an inner collapse as the immensity of his predicament gradually dawned.

At present, and this is characteristic, the Downing Street response focuses on presentation. A discreet but carefully orchestrated smear campaign is under way against Assistant Deputy Commissioner John Yates, the policeman in charge of the investigation.

Yates is being privately accused of leaking material in the Press (as far as I can tell he hasn't) and of somehow undermining British democracy by taking seriously allegations that politicians acted in a criminal fashion.

This backstairs operation against Yates is very reminiscent of the disgraceful, but highly successful, New Labour campaign which led to the dismissal of Elizabeth Filkin, the parliamentary commissioner who had stood up for the public interest with her robust investigations into claims of wrongdoing by ministers, including Peter Mandelson, Keith Vaz and John Reid - and I suspect the same people are behind it.

Simultaneously, Downing Street is trying to mediate with the police in order to minimise the damage. Tony Blair, having come to accept that it is inevitable that he will be interviewed, is desperate to control the circumstances.

OFFICIALS at No. 10 are now asserting that there is no reason why the Prime Minister should be seen in person. Instead, they hope that the police can be persuaded to send in a number of written questions, which Mr Blair will personally answer as best he can.

If the police do insist on an interview, Tony Blair is eager that they attend in plain clothes rather than uniform, in order to prevent the possibility of damaging photographs of the boys in blue barging into No.10.

It's all very grim and ghastly, and yet the Prime Minister battles on. For him, everything now depends on Wednesday's Queen's Speech. This event will encapsulate the survival strategy that is intended to keep him in office until next summer.

Like so much else, it is modelled on George W. Bush. The U.S. President fought his election campaign in 2004 around the politics of fear. He convinced American voters that only the Republican Party understood the terror threat, and only he was tough enough to respond to it.

Meanwhile, he successfully painted John Kerry's Democrats as weak and muddled, not fit to be trusted with the security of the American nation.

Downing Street strategists have studied the Bush methods very carefully, and been influenced almost to an embarrassing extent by the Republican political consultant Karl Rove. …

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