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


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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London