How long can he go on with his cabinet so divided?
With the situation in the Middle East continuing to take its toll how long can Tony Blair go on pursuing his aggressive pro-Israel strategy which is so unpopular in the polls and according to this morning’s papers is opening up big rifts within his cabinet?
The main stories in the Sunday Telegraph, the Sunday Times and the Observer this morning focus on the critical statement issued by the former Foreign Secretary and leader of the house, Jack Straw, following a meeting yesterday with Muslin leaders in his constituency.
The Observer goes on to say that it can “…reveal that at a cabinet meeting before Blair left for last Friday’s Washington summit with President George Bush, minister after minister pressed him to break with the Americans and publicly criticise Israel over the scale of death and destruction. The critics included close Blair allies. One, the International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, was revealed yesterday to have told a Commons committee that he did not view Israel’s strikes on power stations as a ‘proportionate response’ to Hizbollah attacks.
Another Blairite minister among the cabinet critics said: ‘It was clear that Tony knows the situation, and didn’t have to be told about the outrage felt by so many over the disproportionate suffering. He also completely understands the effect on the Muslim community – both in terms of losing Muslim voters hand over fist and the wider issue of community cohesion.’
Today Blair is expected to reinforce his opponents’ concerns with a speech to Rupert Murdoch executives in California when he is expected to say that Hezbollah must be rooted out of Lebanon if there is to be a lasting peace in the Middle East. Neither the contents nor the context of the speech will endear him to Labour’s mainstream.
The danger, surely, is that Blair’s detachment from the party coming on top of the loans affair could just create an environment where the Brownites feel confident of mounting a coup. September’s conference could be very interesting
So far Brown’s ultra cautious approach has stopped such a move – but there will come a point where the Chancellor might damage his own career ambitions if he continues to do nothing.
I still think that the 5/1 that’s available on Blair going in the final quarter of 2006 represents good value.