I am really feeling quite chipper about the political extinction of Tony Blair
…a gloomy Scotch mist has descended on Westminster…
I rejoiced – and then Brown began to speak
You know what, I decided about lunchtime yesterday that I couldn’t take any more. The whole thing was turning into a blubfest of nauseating proportions. First we had the Pyongyang-style standing ovation, in which hundreds of hypocritical parliamentarians clapped their hands sore in celebration of Tony Blair – when a great many of them have spent the past 10 years actively trying to winkle him out of Downing Street, a group that includes many on his own side, and above all his successor.
Then poor Margaret Beckett was so overwhelmed that she started to weep, and had to be “comforted” by John Reid, a procedure that is surely enough to make anyone snap out of it. And then we had the cavalcade moving off to the Palace, and what with the hushed tones of the newscasters and the thudding of the television helicopters overhead, the whole thing started to remind me of Diana’s funeral.
“It has been a very emotional day,” said Sky News’s Adam Boulton. “I have seen some incredible things today, things I never thought I would see.” What were these incredible things? “I have seen the Blairs’ exercise bicycle removed from Number 10,” groaned the honest fellow; and across Britain one imagined the Sky audience returning their sodden handkerchiefs to their eyes as they were racked with fresh bouts of sobbing. The exercise bicycle! The Prime Ministerial exercise bicycle! Never more to be used in Downing Street again! Woe, woe and thrice woe!
Even among the cynical brainboxes who sit here in the shadow ministry for higher education, I noticed a certain oohing and aahing, and so you will understand that I was seized with a desire to puncture the mood. Enough, I thought, of this glutinous sentimentality, and prepared to denounce the entire proceedings as a fraud.
Look here, I felt like saying, everyone is carrying on as though Blair’s departure is the finest and noblest act of self-sacrifice since Captain Oates walked out into the blizzard. But he was pushed, for heavens’ sake. He was forcibly ejected through the parliamentary tent-flaps by a Labour Party that was unable to forgive him for the war in Iraq.
This carefully choreographed handover is just the culmination of the putsch that was launched last autumn by some of his trustiest admirers, such as Siôn Simon MP; and quite frankly, I was going to add, I am myself not completely devastated that he is going.
Sky News may be treating it like the funeral of Queen Victoria, but I am really feeling quite chipper about the political extinction of Tony Blair. Yes, I was going to say, there are some of us who are bearing up pretty well, on the whole, and there are some of us who can’t think of a better fate for Tony than to be carted off to the Middle East. I was just about to launch into a polemic on these lines, when something happened on the television that caused the words to die on my lips.
Suddenly my mood changed; suddenly I felt a sense of desolation and morosity that we had lost Tony Blair, and I can tell you the exact moment when I caught the bug and joined the national mourning. It was the moment Gordon Brown opened his mouth, and, with every word he uttered, the mercury of my mood started to sink and the clouds rolled in.
Of course, it was partly a question of style. It was after only a few seconds of Gordonian gurning and grunting that I felt almost suffocated by the earnestness of his utterance. There was such a grimness, such a solemnity, that I instantly missed Tony’s gift for catching the taste of the moment, for the joky self-deprecation, for the combination of passion with a sense of optimism and uplift.
Gordon was all about work: working steadfastly, working purposefully, working resolutely, and he went on so long that I remembered that the poor Queen had been closeted with him for fully 50 minutes while he banged on about how hard he was going to work; and it is in this emphasis – on his personal devotion to government activism, as a cure for the ills of society – that one can see the outlines of his strategy against the Tories.
It is going to be Roundheads versus Cavaliers, Puritans versus freebooters, work against play. It is going to be dour, hard-working, nail-biting Gordon against those he will seek to portray as the merrymaking amateurs. And of course there will be many who will fall for this line, alas.
What they forget, of course, is that Gordon’s idea of work is really government regulation and legislation and intrusion and interference, with all its fiscal consequences. We all believe in welfare, and in the duty of society to the needy; but it really seems never to occur to Gordon that sometimes people can be genuinely better off – especially people running public services – if we give them back power, rather than endlessly depriving them of their own right of initiative.
Sometimes parents and patients will be happier if we give them the hope and the chance of deciding, accomplishing – even buying – something themselves, rather than making them the victims of depression and disappointment when they are let down, by public services, in circumstances beyond their control.
Gordon croaks, “Let the work of change begin”, like some mad professor hunched over a necromantic experiment. What he means is “let the blizzard of legislation continue”, with all the dire consequences that implies for the size of the state and the burden of tax. There will be no change: only an intensification of the rhythm that has criminalised 3,000 courses of human conduct over the past 10 years, a process in which Gordon Brown has been the principal player.
Quite what Quentin Davies is doing with this lot I have no idea, though for the avoidance of doubt he should now do two things. He should dispel any possible suggestion of corruption by announcing that he will in no circumstances accept a peerage, and he should offer to be the Labour candidate for Sedgefield, so the people of Grantham can have a proper Tory. That might cheer me up, though as I write these words the rain is drifting past my window in sheets. Yes, a gloomy Scotch mist has descended on Westminster, and who knows when it will lift.