the Prime Minister will still not go early – because it is simply not in his nature
He can’t face that endocrinal cold turkey
Blair will walk only with a flame-thrower at his back
I say, “Gah.” I say, “Pshaw.”
I say pull the other one, baby. Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph announced that Tony Blair would leave Downing Street in the spring, and my normal response would be to say that, if you can’t believe The Daily Telegraph, what can you believe?
In the mystifying minestrone of the modern media, the news reports of this great paper must count as the few croutons of fact; and yet, in this case, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief.
There are about a thousand reasons why this human limpet will remain barnacled to the furniture of Number 10 for as long as he possibly can, and I have space for only a few of them here.
The first is that it would be an outrageous insult to the constitution and to the British public. It was only a few months ago that the people rightly or wrongly (make that wrongly) re-elected Mr Blair with a healthy, if gerrymandered, majority of 66.
He was invited by Her Majesty to form a government; he said he would serve a full term; and it would be a scandal if he were simply to pass on the reins to Gordon Brown with all the democratic propriety of the transition from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il.
And – oi, no, you at the back – don’t you go telling me that the Tories did the same in 1990, when John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher.
The whole point was that Mrs Thatcher was exceedingly keen to carry out the Queen’s commission. She would indeed have served a full term, and another, but was jugulated by her own party.
No one is suggesting that will happen to Blair. No one is saying that there will even be a delegation of men in grey suits to push him out.
No, we are told that he will simply hand over the torch to Gordon, each blubbing the while, as a grateful nation looks on with a lump in its throat and then cheers him from the stage. It’s infamous.
Imagine if I decided to pass on the job of MP for Henley to some colleague and lifelong rival – my sister Rachel, for instance – and imagine (as I sometimes torment myself) that the Henley Conservative Association readily assented to this scheme, many of them having been lobbying for Rachel for years.
The electorate of South Oxfordshire would be indignant at not being consulted, and quite right, too. Even if Blair were prepared to be so cavalier with the constitution, I tell you that the Prime Minister will still not go early – because it is simply not in his nature.
It is a wonderful and necessary fact of political biology that we never know when our time is up. Long after it is obvious to everyone that we are goners, we continue to believe in our “duty” to hang on, with cuticle-wrenching tenacity, to the perks and privileges of our posts.
We kid ourselves that we must stay because we would be “letting people down” or that there is a “job to be finished”. In reality, we are just terrified of the come-down.
Every time Blair thinks it is time to jack it in and head for Dunsmarmin in Barbados, he has a mental peek at life after office. He sees a hell of speeches to half-filled stadia in Minnesota, and the audience fanning themselves with their programmes like dying butterflies.
No more outriders, no more adrenaline, no more do-or-die Dispatch Box jousts; no more staring soulfully into the camera, with the little red light on to tell him that he is now going live to every house in the country; no more feeling our pain, no more watching us watching him feel our pain.
Oh no, he thinks: he can’t face that loss. He can’t face that endocrinal cold turkey, and so he postpones, and Gordon gnashes and gnaws offstage.
And every time he has screwed up his courage again, and reconciled himself to semi-oblivion, then he catches an unguarded triumphalist smirk on the face of some Brown-ite, and he remembers all those years of disloyalty and counter-briefing from the Chancellor or his acolytes, and at once a steely resolve forms again in his heart, that furious tenacity we remember from the bunker days of John Major.
“I’ll show them,” he mutters. “They won’t get rid of me that easily, and, in any case, my public still love me. I am still the people’s Blair,” he tells himself.
He finds ever more reasons why the nation needs his hand on the tiller, just as Churchill did in the 1950s. Remember how the Conservatives got back in 1951, and Anthony Eden, the heir-apparent, went immediately to see the old boy and secure undertakings that he would not hang around too long.
Whatever reassurance Churchill may have given at the time, he spent the next few years driving poor Eden round the bend. Stroke after stroke Churchill sustained, and yet he argued that only he could deal with such global events as the death of Stalin in 1953.
He finally handed over the reins in 1955, by which time he was in such a ropy state that the public was kept in a state of systematic and disgraceful ignorance.
All politicians are masters of procrastination, but there is no day they find easier or more natural to postpone than the day of their own resignation.
In putting off that day, finally, Blair has the support of increasing numbers of the Labour Party, who are at last panicking about their seats and who have realised, as one centre-Left MP put it to me today, that “as soon as Gordon gets it, we’re stuffed”.
They fear that Brown will suffer by comparison with David Cameron, and that the longer he sits in Number 10, exuding gloom and unease, the worse it will be at the polls.
“We’ve got to keep Blair in as long as possible,” says my thoughtful Labour chum, “and then call an election as soon as Gordon takes over.” That analysis, of course, is highly congenial to Blair.
No, my friends, pace yesterday’s front page, I don’t see Blair walking next spring, not unless they winkle him out with a flame-thrower, or launch a Forest Gate-type raid on Downing Street.