Saturday, December 24, 2005

King Tony's reign comes to a close

Matthew Parris writes:

Mr Blair’s reign is coming to an end. He has lost his future, lost his army and lost his grip. My colleague Peter Riddell reports the Prime Minister’s remarkably “determined” frame of mind. But determined on what — what that is achievable? I saw an old man on Victoria Street this week pushing a shopping trolley full of tattered plastic bags. He too had a most determined expression on his face.

Soon our delusional PM will be gone. And a solid successor is ready. Why then is there so little buzz of hopeful expectation among Labour MPs awaiting the long-delayed arrival of Mr Brown? Because, deep in its collective gut, the suspicion gnaws new Labour that for England the answer to a new Conservative Leader is not a grumpy old stick-in-the-mud from Scotland.

But who is the answer? Parris suggests one of David Miliband, Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn, Jack Straw, John Reid or Margaret Beckett. Beckett has done a good job at the recent climate change conference in Montreal, but she is really a 70s socialist throwback who would have no chance at winning over middle England. John Reid is an even grumpier, stick-in-the-mud version of Gordon Brown. Jack Straw is a "political pygmy" (© Sir Christopher Meyer), Alan Johnson a non-entity, and David Miliband is even more unctuous than Blair.

It's tricky to plan a succession when, as Geoffrey Wheatcroft reports, "A very senior former personage in the Labour leadership was heard to say recently that in the past eight years, Blair apart, there had been only three people of any real ability in the cabinet. He meant Robin Cook, Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown, of whom one is dead, one is in exile and one isn't on speaking terms with Blair."

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