Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Battle for the Leadership

Blair apparently had a hard time at the PLP meeting last Monday and was forced to concede that he will give his successor “ample” time to settle in as leader before the next election (which is being interpreted as meaning he will go next year sometime between May and September). Wisely, and chastened by previous broken promises, Brown doesn’t appear to think this is sufficient. He wants Blair to have talks with “senior colleagues” about the handover (presumably he wants Blair to give them a date). Blair is resisting this. The Blairites have a tactical advantage here: Brown does not want to inherit a party fatally damaged by a bitter internal dispute (hence his excess of caution about striking the fatal blow); whereas Blair is going off into the lucrative American lecture circuit and in my view he doesn’t care that much about what happens to the Labour Party thereafter (and Milburn and Byers know there is no future for them under Brown). That is why Blair will try to cling on long after it is obvious his doing so damages his successors chances of winning a fourth election. The mood of the party seems to be that Blair and Brown should “sort this out”. But there is now also a groundswell against Blair; and many see no point in his hanging-on. Why does he hang on? Two reasons: (i) The record book: he would like to make ten years and, even better, he would like to outdistance Maggie. (ii) He wants his “legacy”. Well, we all know what his principal legacy will always be: his part in unleashing the bloody carnage in Iraq. He will never escape it. What if Blair doesn’t give the private assurances to the “senior colleagues”? Things have gone quiet over the last few days, but my bet is still on a leadership contest in the autumn.


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