Could Tony Blair endorse David Cameron?
For a politician, there is perhaps nothing worse than being tarnished with corruption, sleaze or political failure. Although John Major was personally the epitome of decency and propriety, his name has become synonymous with such terms of detraction. Not so Tony Blair. He swam like a fish through policy failures, EU tensions, civil war with Gordon Brown, clashes with ministers, party funding scandals, ‘cash for peerages’, Iraq, dodgy dossiers, etc., etc. If New Labour failed to live up to his promise that they would be ‘whiter than white’ in government, the perception of Mr Blair remains that he is a decent, honourable and sincere man. It is difficult to forget that, when Mr Blair stood down as prime minister, David Cameron led the House of Commons in rapturous applause of admiration.
While President George W Bush was on the ascendancy, Mr Blair was his political soul-mate. When President Obama descended from the clouds in a fiery chariot, Mr Blair was on the Mount of Olives to wave his palm branches. Rather like The Sun, Tony Blair likes to be on the winning side, not only in order that he might bask in a little reflected glory, but also that he might take a little credit for the victory, and remain on self-serving good terms with the victor: ‘It was Tony Blair what won it’.
David Cameron rightly eschews the ‘heir to Blair’ epithet. But the Leader of the Opposition has pledged to scrap the new 50 pence income tax band; he wants schools and academies liberated from local authority control; and he supports foundation hospitals free of Whitehall interference. On these key issues Mr Cameron is quite literally the heir to Blair in ways that Gordon Brown manifestly is not.
While he was Chancellor, Gordon Brown limited the powers of foundation hospitals to borrow money, thereby preventing real reform. He has always been sceptical of academies, and shunted Lord Adonis off to the thankless wastelands of Transport with unseemly haste; and with the introduction of a 50 pence income tax band, he has rejected his predecessor’s ‘Third Way’ ideology and reneged on a key manifesto pledge, effectively euthanising the New Labour project.
David Cameron has been ‘wooing’ Tony Blair’s inner circle for quite some time, assuring them of a warm embrace in his Conservative Party. Indeed, he has publicly said that Lord Adonis ‘has been a force for good in education policy’. And now David Cameron is planning to extend Mr Blair’s academy programme to the primary sector. The Leader of the Opposition has also praised Alan Milburn for making some ‘very sensible’ comments on reforming public services, and has expressed admiration for the intellectual arguments of Stephen Byers in favour of introducing more choice and private sector involvement in public services.
It has been clear for more than a decade that Tony Blair despises Gordon Brown. He views him as a tantrum-throwing child in need of constant monitoring and careful psychological handling. The former prime minister is reported to have expressed his ‘despair’ and total opposition to the new 50 pence tax rate for people earning over £150,000. An unnamed friend of Mr Blair said: “He believes taking 50 per cent is not acceptable. It would not have happened if he was still there. He thinks it's a terrible mistake.” And apparently, Mr Blair said he would ‘not be surprised’ if MPs were planning to move against Mr Brown, observing that Labour’s chances of electoral victory ‘could still be improved if Gordon were replaced’.
But what if Gordon Brown were not replaced? How could he be without an immediate general election? The country would hardly accept two unelected prime ministers in quick succession. If Labour reverts to type and rediscovers its dogma of the Left and begins once again to chant its Socialist mantras, might Tony Blair’s infallible weather-vane and his acute political antennae incline him to support the man who shall indeed be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?