Leading article: Mr Blair must beware... the centre of British politics is not his by right

Share

It seems almost incredible that only eight months ago Labour was celebrating its third straight election victory. The Tories had been vanquished again. The Government had been returned with a majority that would have made many previous prime ministers positively green with envy. And Tony Blair was reconfirmed as master of the British political scene. How quickly things have changed.

The past few weeks have been particularly torrid for the Prime Minister. Gone is the image of a confident statesman, in control of events, and securing his triumphant political legacy. In its place is a beleaguered leader stumbling around, putting out one fire after another. The gathering resistance of the police to force mergers is merely the latest indication that Mr Blair's authority is on the wane.

This shift is partly a result of the fact that the country finally has an opposition party worthy of the name. Opinion polls this week showed that the Tories, under the leadership of David Cameron, are ahead. For the first time since 1992 - with the exception of a brief period during the 2000 fuel crisis - the Conservative Party has overtaken Labour. And it has done this by moving sharply back to the centre ground and demonstrating signs of a credible strategy. Rubbing salt in the wound yesterday was Oliver Letwin, who hinted that one of the new Tory objectives will be to "redistribute" wealth. This is the sort of expectation-confounding coup that New Labour might have engineered in the early days of Mr Blair's leadership.

The Prime Minister's tormentors are not confined to the opposition benches. Labour MPs have threatened to defeat the forthcoming Education Bill unless it is substantially modified. There is also looming internal strife on a range of issues from health to nuclear power. Mr Blair ought to take this seriously. Having inflicted the first Commons defeat of the Government over 90-day detention last month, his backbenchers have tasted blood.

Mr Blair will need to exercise all his powers of persuasion if he is to see the bulk of his "legacy" legislation enacted. Threats to quit unless he gets his education and health reforms through sounds bold, but he should beware. This is a weapon that can be used only once. Perhaps more appropriate would be a statement of clarification from Mr Blair about when exactly he intends to stand down. The Prime Minister's pledge "not to fight the next election" increasingly looks like a misjudgement. It has generated uncertainty about how long the Blair era will last. It could be months; it could be years. But it is not surprising he is having difficulty exerting his authority.

One can have a degree of sympathy for Mr Blair. His deputy's outburst at the prospect of poor schools "improving" shows the strength of the forces of conservatism within his own party. This roar from an old Labour dinosaur shows why reform is so necessary in education and why Mr Blair is right to push for it.

John Prescott's silly rant serves another purpose too. It offers a timely reminder of Mr Blair's achievement in making the Labour Party electable. It was because Mr Blair marginalised such anachronistic figures that Labour won power. The big question in British politics now is whether Gordon Brown can keep his party content while pressing forward with lesser reforms, or will this merely allow Mr Cameron to emerge as the candidate offering to continue the modernisation of British public services.

There is movement at the heart of the British political scene and in the electorate. People are less tribal. Allegiances are more fluid. This is why the Tories' move to the centre has the potential to change everything. Politics has rarely been more fascinating.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Assessor

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Sustainability Assessor...

Music Teacher

£110 - £150 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: We are l...

A Level Chemistry Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Part-time A Level Chemist...

Teaching Assistant

£12000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Secondary Teaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: second languages, the secret of love and is it all right to call someone stupid?

John Rentoul
High and mighty: Edinburgh Castle and city skyline  

i Editor's Letter: We're coming to Edinburgh

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?