March 13, 2006


This is Blair's defining moment, but his troops are not behind him (Rachel Sylvester, 13/03/2006, Daily Telegraph)

[T]his is a defining political moment. The very fact that the Labour leader has made clear that he is willing to get legislation on such a touchstone issue for his party through with the help of the Conservatives, and in the face of the opposition of dozens of Labour backbenchers, is a sign that the "tectonic plates" at Westminster have shifted.

The significant change is that Mr Blair no longer sees himself as a Labour prime minister but as a leader - as Churchill once was - of a national government who will do the best for his country despite, rather than because of, what the members of his own party think. When Frank Field wrote in the Telegraph last month that we are in a "new political world" in which the Government will depend on a coalition, from across the House, to get its business through the Commons, Mr Blair was so intrigued that he discussed the point with him.

This is not just about trust schools, admissions codes and LEAs. On tax and public spending, Iraq and nuclear power, the monarchy and marriage, Mr Blair now has more in common with David Cameron than he has with many members of his own party.

The Tory leader, nearly 100 days after his election, is intent on narrowing the differences, too. As all the parties jostle in the middle ground, the Prime Minister's allies argue - rightly - that the old tribal divides of Left and Right are out of date. Instead, politicians are split (within parties) between, for example, liberals and authoritarians.

And Mr Blair is not convinced that his party really understands the new political dividing lines. Privately, he tells colleagues that the default mechanism of the country is closer to the default mechanism of the Conservative Party than it is to the default mechanism of Labour. This is a man whose aim is, more than ever, to reach out over the heads of his MPs and activists to the voters (or indeed to the Almighty) who are, he hopes, more in tune with his beliefs.

To some extent, this has always been the case. Ever since he became Labour leader in 1994, Mr Blair has defined himself in opposition to his party, zipping Left-wingers and trade unionists firmly out of his big tent. When he set out to abolish Clause 4, he said that Labour needed some "electric shock treatment".

bill Clinton likewise depended on Newt Gingrich to get free trade and welfare reform through Congress, not his fellow Democrats. And if today's Democrats had sense enough to support school vouchers, HSAs and personal accounts in SS, -- all of which will primarily help their constituents -- W would welcome their votes with open arms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 13, 2006 9:56 AM

Blair has more critical moments than Bush has given career-saving speeches.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 13, 2006 3:51 PM