Revealed: the winners and losers from an audit of the Balkan war - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Revealed: the winners and losers from an audit of the Balkan war

The cruel truth is that no one can remember a thing the Tory leader has said about the conflict

TONY BLAIR has just dismantled one of the few remaining Tory weapons against New Labour - the accusation that it is too consensual to be any good in a real conflict. Just before the last election, a senior Tory said to me gravely, "But can you imagine him as Prime Minister if Britain goes to war? He'd be a disaster: a lightweight ready to cave in as soon as things get tough."

It was a last desperate throw, but one which encapsulated the view of Mr Blair as a fair-weather politician, adept enough in sunny climes but too light to withstand a storm. The Second Gulf War was too brief and inconclusive and Britain's role so subsidiary that for all the talk of Blair the Hawk, the spat with Saddam did not seal his reputation as a war leader.

Kosovo has achieved that. No longer can Mr Blair be accused of being merely a skilled exploiter of the political seesaw, anxious to be all things to all men. Indeed, the nub of criticism from left and right was that his determination to see the saw through whatever the odds meant that he was failing to act with enough tactical prudence and letting his emotions rule over caution.

Another way to put it is that he chose a strong moral stance and stuck with it, even though some of his European partners were decidedly shaky in the last weeks and Washington's resistance to increasing the risk factor for its own side made the outcome less certain than it should have been. Mr Blair turns out to be rather well suited to fronting a war. It brings out the stubborn, zealous and unbending streak which he developed in dealing with his own party. Far from being concerned about pleasing everybody, he evidently did not mind becoming isolated from less convinced European leaders. For all the positive rhetoric which marked his dealings with the EU, he is perfectly happy not to be part of the Continental mainstream when he is sure of his own cause.

Even now that the sheer relief has unleashed some premature triumphalism among the odd minister or official, the Prime Minister has been a model of caution and - to use a word far too rarely suited to the activities of politicians - dignity. Most importantly, in terms of the workings of the settlement, he continues to rule out the drift towards de facto partitioning of the province.

The main consequence of this at home is an increased dependence of New Labour on the figure and competence of Mr Blair. Some practitioners of Westminster's most devious board game, "who's up, who's down, who's in, who's out" assert that Gordon Brown has had a bad war. He hasn't. He has had no war at all. The Chancellor attended throughout to Any Other Business competently and presided over a successful result in the elections for the Scottish Parliament.

But war changes everything. It commands the full attention of the participants, it drains efforts from other areas. "Behind us," wrote Bertolt Brecht, returning to Germany after his exile from the Third Reich, "lie the exertions of the mountain. Ahead of us lie the exertions of the plain." It is to the exertions of normal administration which Mr Blair must now bend his attention. The wild pace of legislation and promises of change set in the first months after the election are making the government pant a little. The Asylum and Immigration Bill is about to rear its head, alienating many natural Labour supporters. Lords reform is stuck in a ditch, welfare reform needs more shape and context. On GM foods, the government has lost the plot madly, as the overwhelming public approval for the Prince of Wales's intervention demonstrated.

Most seriously, the Ulster peace process has never looked more endangered. It missed the steadying influence of both Mr Blair and his Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, who was diverted from the day-to-day business of overseeing dealings with the Republicans and Unionists to overseeing links with Nato strategists. The response to Sinn Fein's intransigence over decommissioning has been to switch pressure to the Unionists - a tactic for which Mo Mowlam shows instinctive preference. But this may prove short-sighted. Mr Blair needs to rebuild bridges with David Trimble, the main Unionist leader, whose survival at the head of a difficult party represents London's best hope of progress. There is not much time left to save the prospect of peace.

For the Tory leader, the audit of war is the opposite of Mr Blair's. The cruel truth is that no-one can remember a single thing that William Hague has said about the conflict. As in the aftermath of the Princess of Wales's death, he has exhibited a bad weakness in a party leader: the inability to find something succinct to say when the occasion demands it. Kosovo also exposed a number of deep contradictions in the Conservative approach to Nato after the Cold War. This is the party which is proudly pro-defence but not sure about Kosovo, pro-Alliance for as long as the Alliance is actually at war, pro-American except when it doesn't like the President of the moment. The lasting impression is that in international affairs as well as at home the Tory Party has become an opportunistic and rootless entity which does not know what it believes.

One spectator watching all this attentively is the Hawk-in-exile, Michael Portillo. On Breakfast With Frost yesterday Mr Blair did not rule out rumours that he would be prepared to back an American bid to make Mr Portillo the next Nato general-secretary. That's putting it mildly. Blairites are often secret admirers of Mr Portillo, although it is the kind of love that dare not speak its name. Being admired by New Labour is, however, a risky position for a senior Tory to find himself in. One thinks of Debra Winger seducing a string of lovers in The Kiss of the Spider Woman, only to murder them afterwards.

The desire to make love to influential Conservatives inflames the Government. Be they Chris Patten or Ken Clarke on the left or Mr Portillo on the right, it believes that co-opting them is a polite but effective way of devouring Tory hopes of a better future. I imagine that the former defence secretary, although flattered by the seduction, will resist being co-opted into the Blairite harem and refuse the Nato job should it come his way. Taking it would rule him out of regaining a seat at the next election. Without this, his prospects of a return to frontline domestic politics, let alone a leadership bid, would be negligible.

Anyway, Mr Portillo is enjoying himself rebuilding a public profile as the Right-but-Repulsive Tory of yesteryear who is turning out in adversity to be quite nice after all. Nicer or not, he remains a man who once sought to appropriate the SAS slogan, "Who Dares Wins" in a speech to Tory Party conference. Not his best calculation as it turned out. But the warrior instinct remains intact. He has just seen Mr Blair dare and win against the odds abroad. Mr Portillo will not be willing to settle for anything less than a grasp for the laurels of Tory leadership at home.

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week