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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Labour in crisis?

How things change. Only a few weeks ago Tony Blair appeared to be secure in his job and there was talk of him hanging on until 2008 or 2009. People were even speculating that Gordon Brown might not succeed him after all. It is possibly that speculation that has lead to the present crisis. After all, the earlier Tony quits then the more likely it is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will move into Number 10 and the longer he will have to establish himself before facing the electorate.

According to The Sunday Times today rumours are circulating that some Labour MPs are seeking signatures for a motion of no confidence in the prime minister. It is suggested they may include some who in the past have been loyal to Blair.

Those looking for further evidence of weakness need only point to the education white paper. As the first 5,000 copies came off the presses, officials were distraught to discover it was littered with typographical errors. Somebody hadn’t bothered to check.

“There is a sense of drift and losing grip at the centre,” says one Whitehall insider. “We are lurching from one row to another. There is a sense of making policy on the hoof, with different ministers all grinding their axes.”

Personally, I do not believe that any such motion will see the light of day but the fact that it is being reported indicates that it is not just Cabinet Members who are briefing against each other. Their allies in the Labour Parliamentary Party are also joining in. Equally, even though the controversies that have led to this unrest are those centring on the Education White Paper, smoking in public places and today, benefit reform, the real sub-text is the manoeurvring that is going on around the succession. Gordon Brown is staying above the fray but others are doing his job for him, even though their motives may not be so clear.

My money is on Tony Blair staying on to beat Margaret Thatcher's record as Britain's longest serving Prime Minister in modern times. It may well be a tumultous few years but barring a crisis of Poll Tax proportions I do not believe that he can be forced to go against his will. We will see. I have been wrong before, perhaps I will be wrong again.
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