September 6, 2006


Blair's leadership goes into meltdown (Toby Helm, 07/09/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Supporters of Tony Blair challenged Gordon Brown last night to disown up to 100 Labour MPs who are demanding he quit Downing Street or challenge him directly for the leadership of the party.

Mr Blair wants the Chancellor to distance himself from what he believes is a coordinated "coup attempt" in return for bringing forward his preferred departure date next year.

On a day of near-meltdown in the Blair administration, which saw seven members of the Government resign, the Prime Minister refused to be bundled out of office by what his allies described as the "aggression" of the Brown camp.

Embattled Prime Minister sees chances of survival shrink by the hour (Toby Helm, Neil Tweedie and Brendan Carlin, 07/09/2006, Daily Telegraph)
Yesterday dawned with Labour MPs taking bets on the likelihood of Tony Blair staggering on as Prime Minister until next May. But hour by hour, as the crisis facing their wounded leader became clear, the calculations surrounding his survival began to change.

Suddenly, the end of the year looked too long. By lunchtime, Mr Blair's chances of surviving the party conference later this month seemed slim. By the afternoon the political lifespan of the man who led his party to three general victories was being counted in days, and even hours.

Like Margaret Thatcher before him, he faces being overwhelmed, not by the opposition or the voters but by his own MPs.

Parallels with the humiliating day Thatcher fell (Philip Johnston, 07/09/2006, Daily Telegraph)
The Cabinet, of which Mr Blair is, in theory, first among equals, holds the key to his future. In the absence of an easy mechanism for unseating him, of the sort that presented itself to Mrs Thatcher's opponents in 1990, his colleagues could break him merely by their silence — indeed, who has heard yet from Gordon Brown? A prime minister who has lost the support of the Cabinet is no prime minister at all.

Mr Blair's supporters may want a long goodbye; whether they will get one is another matter. There is nothing more dramatic in politics than to witness the ebbing of prime ministerial power.

The incumbents themselves often do not feel the ground moving beneath their feet until they plunge into the chasm.

The parallels with 1990 are there, with some obvious differences. When Mrs Thatcher was challenged for the Tory leadership by Michael Heseltine she had not already indicated, as Mr Blair has, that she was going anyway, though after 11 years in office she was evidently close to making a more dignified exit than her party allowed her.

Secondly, Parliament was sitting, which gave the whole extraordinary affair a fever pitch that the current crisis lacks, not least because many of the political journalists who are covering it are mostly in temporary accommodation a few hundred yards from the Palace of Westminster and there are few MPs around in any case.

The similarities with 1990, though, are inescapable. Then, as now, there was a crisis in the Gulf. Then, as now, there was a feeling that change was in the air and that the prime minister was no longer in control of events.

Resignations and threats: the plot to oust the prime minister (Will Woodward and Patrick Wintour, September 7, 2006, Guardian)
Yesterday fitted no one's definition of the "stable and orderly transition" that Tony Blair had promised the Labour party.

A day that began with a resignation and culminated in showdowns in Downing Street took New Labour into unchartered territory, with neither side preparing to give any quarter, no matter what, it seemed, the political cost. As first a junior minister quit, and then a series of parliamentary private secretaries, the tide appeared to be turning against the prime minister.

But at every stage, Mr Blair counterpunched hard, unwilling to give up and prepared to use the full power of his office to hold on.

As the day wore on, it was impossible to ignore the anxiety - verging on panic - in No 10...

The day Blair accused his chancellor of blackmail (Patrick Wintour, September 7, 2006, Guardian)
An all-out power struggle between the chancellor and the prime minister, culminating with allegations of blackmail by Tony Blair and a ferocious shouting match between the two men, appeared last night to have forced Mr Blair to publicly declare as early as today that he will not be prime minister this time next year.

That may not be enough for Gordon Brown, who is understood to have demanded that Mr Blair quit by Christmas, with an effective joint premiership until a new leader is anointed by the party.

Mr Blair's statement - possibly to be made when he attends a north London school with education secretary Alan Johnson today - will effectively confirm what cabinet ministers, including David Miliband, have been hinting about his intentions in the past few days. It represents a further shift in position as the prime minister struggles to cling to office and prevent a meltdown in the party. [...]

At the height of the breakdown in relations yesterday, one Blairite and former cabinet minister close to the discussions said: "Threatening a serving prime minister in this way borders on the unconstitutional. We are a democracy, not an autocracy living in the era of the Soviet Union circa 1956. There is no way people can be muzzled in the way the chancellor is demanding." The rivals' second meeting came at Mr Blair's request. Earlier Mr Brown had called on him to declare that he would quit the leadership before the end of May. Mr Blair refused. The second meeting also appeared to end in deadlock.

Ten years of pacts, pettiness and feuds (Ewen MacAskill, September 7, 2006, Guardian)
The leftwing Labour MP John McDonnell yesterday described the events of the last few weeks as being like an episode from The Sopranos. The Blair-Brown feud has never reached the levels of blood-letting in the mafia television show but easily matches it in personal viciousness, paranoia, scheming and general pettiness.

The two-hour showdown at Downing Street has been a long time coming, dating back to the Granita pact in 1994, when the two men met at the north London restaurant to carve up the Labour leadership. That deal, far from a peace pact, created a dysfunctional relationship that has disfigured the government for a decade.

A former Downing Street aide was asked a few years ago why, when the two had a disagreement, they did not just sit down and talk. The aide provided a glimpse of their relationship when she said in exasperation: "Don't people shout at each other in most marriages?"

Tony Blair at Bay (DANIEL JOHNSON, September 7, 2006, NY Sun)
Treachery is bad enough at any time, but treachery in time of war is unforgivable. This week the atmosphere at Westminster has been sulphurous, as plot after plot against the prime minister has surfaced. As I write, the outcome is still unclear. The attempt by a large section of the parliamentary Labor Party to force Tony Blair to leave Downing Street less than 18 months into his third term of office may yet succeed. If it does, his premature departure will mark a defeat for the Western coalition in the war on terror — and a victory for the appeasers.

After nine years in office, any leader inevitably accumulates enemies, and Mr. Blair is no exception. His record is uneven. In domestic policy, the best that can be said for Mr. Blair is that, while previous Labor administrations were brief interludes that invariably ended in tears, he has forced the Conservatives to dance to his tune. If he is forced out of office, however, his goal of permanently shifting the Labor Party to the Right may yet prove unattainable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 6, 2006 10:05 PM


Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 6, 2006 10:26 PM

It is sad, but thats politics in the UK. He was too far back in the corner when his departure date was announced.

Posted by: Tom Wall at September 6, 2006 10:55 PM

A question for you British folks who sometimes show up here: Outside of the rather obvious facts that his party despises him and he's not particularly popular right now, why should Blair feel compelled to honor an agreement with Brown, who is openly working against him? Couldn't he announce that he's serving out the rest of his term and tell his opponents to stuff it?

I suppose his cabinet could simply refuse to serve with him, but it seems like Blair could make a decent argument that he is under no obligation to obey a deal made with somebody who is out to destroy his career.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at September 7, 2006 2:36 PM

Brown has the votes.

Posted by: oj at September 7, 2006 2:41 PM


At the risk of grabbing the limelight from our British pals, the problem is that in the parliamentary system, the executive and legislature are integrated. Blair rules the roost with far more power than an American president, but only as long as he can win a confidence vote in the House. If he loses one, it's election time, and if he lost it because of an internal party revolt, it's welcome to chaos.

Blair's time is up.

Posted by: Peter B at September 7, 2006 6:56 PM

Peter B:

Thanks for the answer. Does a no-confidence vote simply precipitate an election among MPs for their new leader, or would it actually lead to a nationwide Parliamentary election? If it's the latter, wouldn't Labour be reluctant to do such a thing when right now the Tories would probably clobber them? Couldn't Blair just dig in his heels?

Also, I have no idea whether a confidence vote would be among only Labour MPs or Parliament as a whole. I suppose the first would track with a party-leader election, and the second with a national election.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at September 9, 2006 5:27 AM