Wednesday, December 03, 2003

You're nothing without me...nothing!

The prime minister is rapidly emerging as a master of the two stage argument. Stage one: lightly cover any proposed measure with the fairy dust of keywords. It is modern, dynamic, fair and inclusive, whatever it happens to be. If that doesn't work threaten to resign in a fit of nuclear petulance.

Asked by Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy whether the forthcoming vote on top-up fees amounted to a vote of confidence in his leadership, Mr Blair said: "Of course it is important for the government - all these votes are important to the government."

He has already admitted his authority is "on the line" over the vote.

Well, no party wants to lose its leader. But the threat also chimes in to the founding doctrine of New Labour theology - that everyone in the Labour party owes all their success to him and him alone.

It's time this myth was exploded. Labour assumed a derfinitive lead in the polls after the Major government was forced out of the ERM, and stayed there until the great fuel sulk of 2000 saw the Tories make a brief revival.

The Major government saw the Tories slide into senility, moving from 'repulsive but right' to just repulsive. Does anyone really think that John Major could have beaten John Smith back in '97? Getting rid of the Tories then was partly a compassionate act. Let's put the old dog in a sack and dump it in the canal. It's the kindest thing to do.

It's surely true that Labour wouldn't have won with such large majorities. Blair collared huge numbers of votes amongst the vaguely concerned middle classes. But the Blair effect did not ensure that Labour won. It ensured that Portillo lost.

The irony is that it's these "vagues" who seem to be the most disillusioned with Blair. They voted for honest, non-politicised administration and got lunatic military adventures, crony PFI capitalism and public services mangled by the government's cargo cult of enterprise. They got a government committeed to the involvement of private enterprise in every area of government activity, yet also completely unable to negotiate a sound contract. Now they're getting whacked with higher fees to send their kids to college. They have left the Church of Blair, feeling somewhat used.

The vote on top up fees goes ahead in January, just at the time Hutton emerges with his final report. That should be an interesting combination. Don't slam the door on your way out, Tony...