Friday, May 21, 2004

loved not wisely but too well

I don't have much experience in Toryology, but there's something odd going on over on the right hand side of the aisle.

There is abundant evidence of this, most eloquent of all Michael Howard’s in-tray. The Conservative leader has been deluged with letters from senior Republicans attacking him, sometimes in strong terms, for his alleged failure to support Tony Blair to the hilt. The Republican party believes that the betrayal is all the greater because of his role in setting up the Atlantic Partnership, a think tank dedicated to ‘purposeful strengthening’ of links between Europe and the United States. The Atlantic Partnership, whose meetings are addressed by senior members of the US administration as well as top-rank European politicians, has been extremely effective in getting the US message across to an elite British audience. But some of the Partnership’s Republican backers have told Michael Howard that his recent criticisms of Tony Blair amount to a betrayal. According to an aide, Howard recently remarked on receiving a letter from an angry Republican, ‘I am not going to be told by Americans what I will and will not do.’

Never mind the public - when do any of them mind the public - this is some kind of pitch to the Tory faithful in their house journal. Max Hastings hs also been using the Speccy and the Guardian to make foreign and defense policy proposals for the Tories, from the left of the party. But why do the Tories want to chain Blair to Bush? What's actually in it for them? And I wonder how much of this stuff Kerry's aware of?

One senior official privately describes telling Blair, ahead of a pre-war meeting with George Bush, that Britain’s standing in Washington was now so high that he could make practically any demands he liked, and that they would probably be granted. A list was provided. The official was aghast when the British Prime Minister did not raise a single one of them at the meeting which followed. Later he described the meeting, and his feeling of utter amazement, to Jack Straw. The Foreign Secretary shrugged his shoulders. ‘That’s the nature of the beast,’ he said.

I can juts see himn sitting there with puppydog eyes, trembling in some sort of personal apotheosis. Blair's approach to politics has always struck me as somewhat theological. Where previous labour leaders stressed atlanticism for its utility - as a signal that they were fit to govern - for Blair it seems to be a matter of faith. There can be no higher calling than to sit by the right hand of an American President.

On the other hand, what if Kerry got in and it was generally understood that Blair's closeness to Bush, his role in not making him seem like an absolute dolt, had damaged his standing with the Democrat in the white house? The thought that he had actually undermined the "special relationship" would finish him off for good.