Blair has nothing more to say to us: he should go at once
Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. You have only to read the latest memo from Downing Street to see that something in the bunker has finally snapped. Maybe they are putting Orozac in the water cooler. Maybe they’ve disconnected the television. Maybe they have special dummy editions of the papers, produced by Alastair Campbell’s gnomes in the dungeons and then brought up on silver salvers to where Tony and Cherie recline on their couches and dangle grapes into their crazy mouths.
Here we are, with British soldiers being killed almost daily in Iraq and Afghanistan on missions that are growing in scale and horror. We have rises in gun crime, rises in unemployment, rises in interest rates — and these flaming lunatics in Downing Street seriously expect the nation to line the streets with bunting and shower Tony with confetti as he goes on a six-month lap of honour, a “farewell tour” in which he accepts the praises of a smiling people.
Rather than sorting out Iraq, it is proposed that he should “reconnect” with his public and spend his glorious swansong on shows such as Blue Peter and Songs of Praise. We must rebuild public affection for the grand finale, say the Downing Street maniacs, thought to be Lord Gould, Jonathan Powell and Benjamin Wegg-Prosser. “He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won’t even play that last encore.”
I don’t know which of the three wrote that last sentence, but he must be clinically insane. Do they seriously imagine that, after nine years of irritation, culminating in the Iraq war, they can persuade the British public to give way to a fever of Blair-o-mania, with women throwing their knickers at his departing beam and men sobbing and begging him to play that “last encore”?
How monstrous, how sickening, that they should target poor old Songs of Praise, watched by millions of lusty religious warblers in a state of apolitical innocence. They want to sing hymns. They don’t want Tony Blair popping out from behind a pew and using the programme to reinsert himself in public esteem. They want to Praise the Lord, not the blasted Prime Minister.
And yet the really terrifying thing is that Blair seems to share the assumptions behind the Downing Street memo. He wants to go out with that sensation of triumph. He wants the laurels on his brow, and the captive tribesmen manacled before his chariot, and the matrons ululating his name from the rooftops.
In his indifference to reality, he is chilling, Neronian. This is no longer about the interests of the country. It is not even about the Labour Party. It is all about him, his desire to prosecute his long-running feud with Gordon Brown, and his vainglorious desire to be well remembered — to have a “legacy”.
Well, it is not a good enough reason to remain in office. The point of being prime minister is to serve the interests of the country, not himself. It is obvious that Blair intends to spend his last year simply luxuriating in power, while all 3,000-odd government spin édoctors (or as many as remain loyal) squander untold millions burnishing his image.
It is a disgraceful project, and it must be prevented. I say this with no selfish, strategic or party objective. In fact, from the Tory point of view, it would be ideal if he stayed on and on and on. Blair has the distinction of bringing civil war not just to Iraq, but also to the Labour Party. It is quite stupefying that Siôn Simon MP — the man we all assumed would be Ney to Blair’s Napoleon — should revolt in this way. How many ministers and understrappers resigned yesterday, because their Prime Minister would not resign immediately himself? Was it six or seven? For 10 years, we in the Tory party have became used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing; and so it is with a happy amazement that we watch as the madness engulfs the Labour Party.
There is a case for hoping that Blair hangs on, and that the violence intensifies, and that, when Brown finally takes over, the damage is irreparable and the earth sown with salt. Let them spend another six months in strife, and then the whole party will be riddled with resentments of Bosnian durability.
Yet even as I make this case, I feel a sense of weariness. Whatever the narrow calculations of party-political interest, they are outweighed by my overwhelming feeling that Blair has had his chips. If we are going to have Gordon Brown or Alan Johnson in six months or a year, why can’t we have them now? Let’s see what they have to say, and get stuck into them. What’s the point of a Blair Queen’s Speech in November, when we know that none of its promises will be enacted by Blair?
It was absolutely fatal for Downing Street to concede this week that he would definitely be gone by next May 31, because that means there is no reason why he should not go by February; and, if he might go by February, there is no reason why he should not go now.
Except one, as we discover. He wants his “farewell tour”, complete with cheering crowds at “iconic buildings”. We should not waste a penny of taxpayers’ money in supporting this fantasy. He should scrap his trip to the Middle East, not least since Brown (or Johnson) may take a very different line next year. The venture has no function beyond show-boating and self-puffery.
Blair has failed in his great ambition to take Britain into the euro; he has failed to reform the welfare state. He has done some good things and he has some excellent qualities. But he has nothing more to say to the British public except that he wants to give them another six months to show that they really love him and will really miss him.
That is no basis on which to claim the tenancy of Downing Street. If he wishes to avoid an assassination, he should stay not upon the order of his going, but go at once.