Leading article: The Prime Minister must clarify his intentions

Share

How quickly things change in New Labour politics. Only a few months ago relations between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - although not amicable - seemed to be more professional than they had been for a long time. We were informed that the Prime Minister was finally reconciled to the inevitability of Mr Brown's accession and was making plans for a smooth handover of power. For his part, the Chancellor had agreed to support his leader to the hilt in the intervening period. Co-operation and choreography were the buzzwords around Westminster. But no longer.

The regular meetings between the two appear to have been suspended. There are reports that Mr Brown has been "dis-invited" from Wednesday's launch of Labour's local elections campaign, an echo of his exclusion from last year's general election campaign. And there is a new openness to the sniping between the two camps.

As usual, both claim the moral high ground. The Prime Ministers' camp accuses allies of Mr Brown of stoking the fires of the scandals surrounding Tessa Jowell and the secret loans to the Labour Party. And there are suspicions that the Chancellor deliberately brought the council tax discount for pensioners to an end in his recent Budget to destabilise Labour's local elections campaign (and by extension Mr Blair).

The Brown camp is just as paranoid. Dark suspicions were aroused by Mr Blair's admission in an interview in Australia that pre-announcing his departure was a "mistake". And the Chancellor has interpreted public statements last week by two former Blairite ministers as a coded attack on his record at the Treasury. In short, such is the level of distrust that every move by each side, no matter how trivial, is analysed for hidden meaning and seized upon as evidence of betrayal.

The infighting is clearly debilitating for the Government, with ministers being pulled in two directions at once. It would be tempting to argue that a debilitated government is no bad thing when those in power are pushing through illiberal measures such as ID cards. But we should not forget that serious questions regarding the nation's future are also at stake. Pensions are a good example. There is disagreement at the heart of government over whether to implement the recommendations of the Turner Inquiry. Mr Blair is in favour, but Mr Brown believes it would be unaffordable. A White Paper is due next month. How can we have any confidence that a final decision will be determined by the merits of the Turner proposals, rather than the twisted relationship between these two men?

This situation is also diverting ministers' minds from serious matters such as the threat from global warming. These questions cannot be postponed until such time as Mr Blair and Mr Brown decide to work sensibly together. They matter far more to the public than either the "legacy" of Mr Blair or the "inheritance" of Mr Brown.

This frenzied struggle is being played out against a backdrop of discontent in the Labour Party and the country. Rebel Labour MPs are threatening to mount a leadership challenge to Mr Blair if the party does poorly in the local elections. And an opinion poll this weekend indicated that most voters believe Mr Blair should step down within a year.

There are suggestions, fuelled by the Deputy Prime Minister's remarks last week, that Mr Blair is planning to announce a firm date at which he will leave office. Such a move would, at least, have the merit of ending the paralysing uncertainty hanging over his premiership and raise the possibility of a halt in these futile hostilities. Mr Blair must recognise that the longer he allows this situation to drag on without clarifying his plans, the worse it will become both for him and the Government.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
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