03 November 2005
Bye bye Tony
What do Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have in common? Quite a bit, actually. Neither really belonged in their respective parties. Thatcher was a classical-liberal who probably only joined the Tory Party because in those days it was said that all the Liberal MPs could have fitted quite happily into one London taxi. For an ambitious middle class type like Margaret Roberts the Liberals were little more than a slow boat to nowhere. Besides, by the 1950s the Liberals shared little but their name with the party that had fought for free-trade and limited government. As for Blair, he entered the Commons in 1983, at the height of Thatcherism rampant. Had Harold Macmillan still led the Tories it is quite possible that he would have felt more at home in the ranks of the party that had its origins in monarchial-authoritarianism. Charity for the poor and a dose of stick for the undeserving poor seems to be his ideology.The Tories have their men in gray suits. Labour probably has a delegation of blokes from Transport House, but the principle is the same. Sooner rather than later a group will arrive at 10 Downing Street to invite Tony Blair to take his hook. He will complain that nobody loves him and he will be right. Such is the lot of the interloper.
Being outsiders gives these two something else in common: neither of them is much liked in their nominal homes. The Tories sang Margaret's praises so long as she led them to victory, but once she looked like a loser the party dumped her like so much dead weight. The problem that Thatcher had was partly that her political longevity had made her a lot of enemies, but mainly because she could not rely on the circle of supporters that Prime Ministers usually have because she didn't have one. She was surrounded by people whose support was conditional upon victory and nothing more, but friends they were not.
The same is true of Blair. He has been around a long time, but just as Thatcher could never be thought of as spending a day on a grouse moor, so the idea of Blair sitting in a working men's club is risible. Like Thatcher he took power over a party that was demoralised by defeat and like Thatcher he remains the outsider. The Labour Party went along with all the New Labour nonsense because Blair told them that it was the only road to victory, but they never believed it. Given that just about any Labour leader in history could have defeated John Major in 1997, their scepticism was surely justified. Nevertheless, a defeated and weary party went along with little Tony's plans and has tolerated him because he won victories.
Well now he looks like a loser - just as Thatcher did before him. The resignation of "Bonker" Blunkett is the latest in a long line of defeats that little Tony has suffered. He went on record as saying that Bonker should stay, but the Labour backbenches told him to lose the shagmeister. The Terrorism Bill sneaked through with a one vote majority, which is small comfort to a PM who has a nominal 66 seat majority in the Commons. Finally, the cabinet cannot even agree on a clear line on smoking. This led Michael Howard to taunt Blair with the jibe that his support was not seeping away, but haemorrhaging.