THE MEDIA have been celebrating Tony Blair’s survival of the latest great crisis of his premiership. It is, on the face of it, pretty remarkable.
Successive reports by Lord Hutton and Lord Butler have provided ample evidence that the case for war against Iraq was—to coin a phrase—sexed up on the orders of Downing Street.
Both these noble lords ruled that no politician or civil servant was to blame.
That merely shows that Blair chose his judges shrewdly. It doesn’t alter the facts in the slightest.
Yet despite these damning realities Blair triumphed in the House of Commons debate on the Butler report on Tuesday last week.
He even echoed Margaret Thatcher, commanding us to “rejoice” over the conquest of Iraq that was achieved by such shabby means.
The reasoning behind Blair’s arrogant triumphalism further underlines New Labour’s contempt for democracy.
British prime ministers can be removed from office in one of two ways.
Either they are defeated in a general election, or they lose the support of their own parliamentary party.
The two reasons are often connected. Thatcher was removed by her cabinet and back bench because they feared she would lose the next election.
Labour MPs roared in Blair’s support last week because they believe that Blair will win the next election and thus save their seats.
This belief is not based on any evidence that the Labour Party enjoys massive popular support.
The European elections and the by-elections in Birmingham Hodge Hill and Leicester South show the contrary.
The crucial point is that Blair’s personal unpopularity and the decline in Labour’s support aren’t benefiting the Tories.
In the by-elections, the Liberal Democrats were the biggest beneficiaries; in the Euros, the UK Independence Party was.
Projecting forwards to the general election, Blair and his advisers hope that the Liberal Democrats and UKIP will between them prevent the Tories from picking up too many votes.
Thanks to the first past the post electoral system, Labour can then still win a majority of seats even though its share of the vote falls compared to the 1997 and 2001 general elections.
The fact that such an outcome will make a mockery of democracy means nothing to Blair, his ministers and his backbench toadies.
All that counts is them winning and hanging on to their jobs.
Nor do they care that the prospect of a third victory by such a tarnished Labour government will encourage even more voters to stay away from the polls.
It’s good news, of course, that the Tories stand little chance of winning the next election.
But their policies will be well represented in the Labour manifesto.
Andrew Rawnsley wrote of Blair in last Sunday’s Observer, “He is of the same view as ever that this government will not lose power because it has been too right wing.”
A week earlier the Observer reported the Blairites’ spin on the by-elections:
“In Birmingham, they argue, a New Labourite IT entrepreneur who fought a right wing campaign on crime and asylum narrowly won.
“In Leicester South, an anti-war councillor, who fought an old-fashioned contest on service cuts, lost.”
There is massive self delusion here.
The 27 percent swing away from Labour in Birmingham Hodge Hill was even bigger than the 25 percent swing in Leicester South.
But the latest spate of “five-year plans” announced last week confirms that Blair intends to fight the next general election on viciously right wing policies.
This cynical strategy is unlikely to halt the steady erosion of Labour’s mass base. There is a race to decide who will benefit from this.
Respect is making a principled challenge to Blair from the left.
It is offering an alternative to the opportunism of the Liberals, to the right-wing populism of UKIP, and to the outright fascism of the BNP.
Whoever wins this race, the longer Blair hangs on to office, the greater the chance he has of fulfilling Thatcher’s ambitions and destroying the Labour Party.