The Boss

the man behind the image
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The Independent Culture
His own MPs have accused Tony Blair of being an 'autocrat' who has contrived a 'cult of personality'. His chief lieutenants are reported to be feuding, rivalrous barons, barely on speaking terms. What really goes on in the wood-panelled rooms of the Palace of Westminster, and what does it tell us about how Blair would run a government? This is a day in his life, earlier this year. By John Rentoul

Wednesday, 15 May. Labour is unveiling its "New Deal for a Lost Generation", a rehash of its plans for work experience and training for young people. It's bound to be eclipsed by reports of tensions between shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown, deputy leader John Prescott and Blair's campaign chief, Peter Mandelson.

Blair is picked up by his car from his Islington home at 8.15am. The car has already collected his press secretary Alastair Campbell and they listen to Brown on the Today programme while driving to the House of Commons. Brown is being asked about his two-year feud with Mandelson, Blair's closest adviser, who had backed Blair rather than Brown for the leadership. Brown judiciously calls Mandelson a "brilliant" election strategist.

Just before 10am, Blair walks across Parliament Square to the Institute of Civil Engineers to talk through the news conference at which Labour's "New Deal" is being launched. Four shadow cabinet ministers are joining Blair in a show of unity.

10.30am. At the news conference, Blair takes charge, swatting aside reports of a rift between Brown and Prescott as "Westminster tittle-tattle". He treats the press with a touch of Thatcher-style bossiness, showing off to the young people in his audience, and his slight debunking of the journalists defuses tensions in the room. "Yes, a question from Peter Spencer, Sky News" - he turns to the journalist he's named, then announces, to laughter: "he's got a pink Mercedes, you know."

11.10am. He returns to the Palace of Westminster to hear President Jacques Chirac address both Houses of Parliament.

1pm. A sandwich in his office.

From 2pm until 7.30pm, Blair holds continuous meetings in his office or the adjoining shadow cabinet room. The office is a bare, functional room which says, "I do not intend to be here long." Blair is always to be found on the sofa - just as he is in hotels when travelling around the country.

4pm. Wednesday, shadow cabinet day and a meeting of the inner cabinet of Prescott, Brown and Shadow Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

So they do talk to each other; but did they discuss Prescott's attack on Brown's supposed ambition to head a "super Treasury"? Or Cook's dismissal, as just "one option", of Brown's plan to withdraw child benefit for 16- 18-year-olds in full-time education? Blair's spokesman is asked whether Blair had "knocked heads together". The spokesman ignores the bait, thus avoiding potentially harmful headlines next day. But they must have said something, because the Labour leader's message to shadow cabinet at 5pm is: That's enough gossip. Never mind who started it.

At 6.30pm, Blair meets a group of back-bench Labour MPs, including Dennis Skinner, the foghorn of the left. Skinner, surprisingly, admires Blair, although he disagrees with him. He does not accuse him of autocracy, he respects Blair's willingness to argue the opposing case. It's generally agreed that previous Labour leaders did not talk to backbenchers enough, although Skinner remembers how Harold Wilson used to hold similar audiences. The difference, he says, is that Wilson did all the talking.

At 7.30pm, Blair heads for home and the cherished privacy of family life. On the way, the car collects Cherie from the opening of Bruce Oldfield's new fashion shop in Mayfair

The last event on his schedule is known as a "T & Pi" - try and pop in - to Don Dixon's farewell party. Dixon, the last of the Old Labour machine, is retiring as deputy chief whip. The whips' office is now controlled by Blair loyalists Donald Dewar and Nick Brown. So when Blair briefly looks in on Dixon's party, it's another mark of his ascendancy.

Blair's style is open, American, consultative. He is superb at dealing face to face with people who disagree with him, persuading them that they share common ground. But the reality is that his defences are always up, that he is a master of the signals of agreement and consensus, that he consults people largely as a tactic. The Labour Party now has, as one Blair adviser indelicately puts it, a "unitary command structure"

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