Alan Watkins: They've made the painful decision but the old man just can't leave. Result: paralysis

He won't quit, but it's not as if he has nowhere else to go
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The Independent Online

It is a tableau re-enacted in tens of thousands of households up and down the land. They have had their ups and downs, though more downs than ups. The children are no longer children. The time has come to go their separate ways. The books, roughly half of them, are packed away in old cardboard boxes. The CDs have been parcelled up. Only the fate of the microwave remains to be decided, a matter of hot dispute.

And yet, the old man refuses to get out of the house. He has, he says, various things to do. There is a whole winter ahead. By May, or even April, the weather will be more promising. For the moment, he is staying put. No wonder his partner is becoming restive.

It is not as if he has nowhere else to go to. He has a large and commodious residence, in Connaught Square, just west of Marble Arch. It is, admittedly, a very expensive house, and it is not in a specially attractive part of London. But there we are. He sold his nicer house in Islington, nearly 10 years ago now, on the counsel of his friend Alastair Campbell, when he could have rented it out quite easily. Clearly Mr Campbell's advice is not always to be relied on, whether about the property market or about other matters.

In the House of Commons, the backbenchers turned to one another and muttered: "We can't go on like this." But they can, you know, and they will.

In the couple of weeks before the party conference season began, and when I was still on holiday, there was what was described as an attempted coup against Mr Tony Blair. I write that it was "described as" because it was not a real coup. It was not even a real attempt at a coup. It was, rather, an illustration of the old saying that Satan invariably found work for idle hands to do.

Time hung heavy when the middle of September came round and the house was still not sitting (despite the rash promises that had previously been made by earlier Labour Leaders of the House). In the absence of the tearoom and the cafeterias - and the decline of the bars as a means of communication - the email held undisputed sway as the prince of mischief-makers. Indeed, when the true history of the Blair administrations comes to be written, the course of events will have been measured out not in diaries (even allowing for Mr David Blunkett), still less in government records, but in emails.

The communications flew between the members of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The subject was Mr Blair and his future. Prominent among the messengers were Mr Tom Watson and Mr Sîon Simon.

Having enjoyed a humdrum though successful early career, Mr Simon quite suddenly became a sought-after journalist. This was in 1995. Clearly, he was a lively writer. But what made his work even more attractive to editors was that he had, or it was thought that he had, a rapport with Mr Blair and his entourage. He became a columnist with The Daily Telegraph and an associate editor of The Spectator.

As a Labour MP after 2001, he was even more loyal in his habits, if that were possible. Reward from the Whips came there none. One was reminded of John Morley's observation to his hero W E Gladstone that journalists were by their slapdash methods and irregular lives rendered unsuitable for high office or, indeed, for employment of any description. And Morley was himself a distinguished Victorian journalist, though the journalists Lord Salisbury, Winston Churchill, Ramsay MacDonald and Michael Foot all led their respective parties. Let us, however, return to Mr Simon. His latest escapade has been to record a video making fun of Mr David Cameron. All those speeches, hundreds of articles - and Mr Simon finds 15 seconds of fame with a somewhat tasteless video!

It is not, perhaps, the lofty moral purpose that Mr Gordon Brown is on the lookout for. Even Mr Jack Straw has expressed his reservations about Mr Simon's apparent frivolity, though Mr Simon could argue that we should not allow ourselves to become too solemn about these things and that he was doing it all for a good cause.

The cause in question was the defeat of Mr Cameron rather than the rapid elevation of Mr Brown. Whether the September emailers were organised by Mr Brown or on his behalf - and no very clear evidence exists one way or the other - the result was to implicate the Chancellor in the conspiracy, if conspiracy it was. And the result of that was to bring about a tidal wash of sympathy for Mr Blair, both in the party and in the country at large.

He was, people felt, being hard done by. An even greater Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had been treated with even more cruelty and ingratitude. This was the line taken by The Sun and, even if less stridently, by the rest of Mr Rupert Murdoch's newspapers. In fact, the two events are not comparable; or, rather, the event that occurred in 1990 is not the same as the series of events that started with Mr Blair's promise not to fight four elections, and continued with his promise not to make another conference speech, and is yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Mrs Thatcher, as she was then, was brought down by a combination of backbenchers and cabinet. Mr Blair had chosen to go at some date of his own choosing to get himself out of a hole. Having made an unwise promise, he is stuck with it.

Mr Murdoch said recently, in an interview with The New Yorker, that Mr Blair was henceforward a lame-duck Prime Minister, or words to this effect. This is not the most staggering political insight I have ever read, though there is an interesting divergence between the great proprietor's views and those of his newspapers: for while his newspapers or, at any rate, The Sun regard Mr Blair as a good man fallen among socialistic idiots, Mr Murdoch thinks the Prime Minister has brought his troubles largely on himself, by saying he would go.

Meanwhile, the old man is staying on in the matrimonial home. I think I used the word "paralysis" before the Tories got hold of it in the present context. I am not specially proud of it, but it expresses perfectly adequately what it means. Mr Blair can easily have an off day in the Commons, as he did last Wednesday, but he can make no decisions for the future.

What is worse, if anything, is to make decisions with the intention of tying Mr Brown down like Gulliver. Mr Brown is always awkward - whether praising the American alliance, or Britishness, or whatever piece of nonsense has last come into his head - and the time has surely come to take the poor chap out of his misery.