Could Blair have impeded the Tory surge?
On Friday I got into an argument with the Labour-leaning blogger I have most respect for, Paul Linford, over what would have happened to the party if Tony had not stepped down in June 2007. I felt that Labour would be doing better – Paul disagreed.
He argued: “..Sure, there was a grudging recognition among the public that Blair â€œdeservedâ€ his ten years, but they were absolutely sick to the back teeth of him by the time he finally went and if he had stayed on any longer, God only knows where Labourâ€™s poll ratings would be now (somewhere in the mid-teens I suspect.) The idea that he could have fought a fourth election and come out of it with a hung Parliament is fanciful.”
I’m not so sure and his suggestion that Labour would be in the “mid teens” is surely an exaggeration. Yes certain things like the sub-prime mortgage crisis, Northern Rock, the oil price rices, the economic slowdown and the loss of the computer discs would have happened whoever was resident at Number 10. But a lot of the events that caused the step changes in the polls were specific to the Brown government.
The biggest poll driver was, of course, Brown’s U-turn on the November general election and then his hard to believe statement that it had nothing to do with the polls. Even if Blair had got himself into that position his explanation would have been more plausible.
Then there were the actions that were designed to trip Cameron up – the 2007 budget tax changes ahead of his arrival at Number 10 and the move to press for the 42 day detention period. On top of that was Darling’s 2008 budget which caused the dramatic step change in the polls from March 2008 onwards and from which the party has not recovered.
Perhaps the biggest difference would have been in the overall presentation skills of the cabinet. The main communicator for the government is Gordon himself. He does not have an effective heavy hitter and attack dog such as a John Reid, Charles Clarke or David Blunkett and this shows. Brown badly needs others who are empowered and can share the burden of putting the government’s case effectively and taking the fight to the Tories.
But it would not all have been rosy for Tony. His biggest problem and the reason his party eventually could no longer stomach him was his foreign policy – particularly after his stance on the Israeli-Lebanon conflict in 2006. The current talk in US of action against Iran would have made his position even more difficult.
Overall, though, I believe that a Blair-led Labour would not have been in as poor a position as Brown’s government now faces.