May 7, 2005


Mr Brown will now show Mr Blair the door (Robert Peston, 08/05/2005, Daily Telegraph)

So is there anything that Mr Brown can do to persuade Mr Blair to leave now with dignity? Well, the Chancellor has been helped by the education Labour MPs received during the election, when they discovered the extent to which voters hate Mr Blair: many want to see honoured the subliminal message of Labour's campaign: "Vote Blair, Get Brown" - and fast.

In this context, Michael Howard has done Mr Brown a very good turn. Like the Prime Minister, Mr Howard has concluded that it would be wrong to fight another election. Unlike Mr Blair, he has set in train a process - albeit a lengthy one - to find a replacement. Mr Howard's decision to put his party before personal vanity will be highlighted in coming days by Brown supporters.

Yet short of simply flouncing off to the backbenches - an act of petulance that would fatally damage him as much as Mr Blair - there is little Mr Brown can do in the short term to speed his rival's departure. There may, however, be a looming opportunity. I put it in the conditional, because it all depends on whether the French vote Yes in the European referendum later this month and whether there is therefore a plebiscite in the UK next year.

Mr Brown will have concluded from the election result that there is not the faintest chance of Labour winning that vote. So, for the good of the party, he would urge Mr Blair to abandon plans for a referendum. Because they talk so rarely, I am certain that Mr Brown will not yet have told Mr Blair that his final dream - of bowing out as the man who turned the tide of British Euroscepticism - will go unfulfilled.

It will be a shattering conversation for Mr Blair. And I'm sure that even though Mr Brown is a good European and would campaign alongside Mr Blair if he insists on holding the vote, his heart would not be in it. Mr Brown does not want to be leader of a party heading for opposition. And yet that is just what Mr Blair's desire to hold an EU referendum promises for him and Labour.

And perhaps if Mr Blair abandons the referendum plan, he will notice that he already has his Guinness Book of Records entry as the only Labour leader to win three successive victories - and would depart as hero were he to go while the triumph is still fresh.

What a great final turn, to spike the EU just before leaving power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 7, 2005 8:54 PM

Since the Tories have no coherent position on the EU, let alone a Eurosceptic position common to all important spokespeople, they will be incapable of taking advantage of any rancor a pro-EU position on the part of Labour might create.

As for the rest of the article, before Blair, Labour was in the weeds, about as close to running Britain as Ralph Nader was of being President. After Blair, they look like they are the 'natural party of government.' All but the most extreme Blair opponents, those most responsible for Labour's near demise in the 80s and early 90s, any MP will be very circumspect before dumping Blair. Moreover, the 'true believers' don't much care for Brown any more than they do Blair.

Posted by: bart at May 8, 2005 7:22 AM