Leading article: The travails of a Prime Minister whose authority is ebbing away

Mr Blair's ambition is to leave on a high note. Every day he remains in office, his power and standing are diminished

Share

This has been a truly wretched week for Tony Blair. Not surprisingly, the catastrophe in Iraq has been the source of many of his problems. It was a gross misjudgement by the Prime Minister to stay away from the House of Commons debate on the subject. His decision to attend a minor CBI conference instead screamed distorted priorities.

Yet Mr Blair's troubles in this area go considerably deeper. It became clear this week that the White House's new policy on Iraq bears little similarity to our own. Some of Mr Blair's cabinet ministers - notably Peter Hain and Hilary Benn - have already broken ranks. As Iraq slips further into chaos, more will surely follow.

The situation is little better for the Prime Minister on the domestic front. Even an issue as apparently innocuous as the future structure of the Home Office is causing problems. Asked repeatedly by David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions this week whether he approves of a plan floated by the Home Secretary to divide it into two ministries, Mr Blair refused to commit himself. This has been interpreted as a sign that, with Mr Blair's time in office fast running down, it will not be his decision to make.

The crisis in our prisons is damaging the Prime Minister too. As Home Secretary, John Reid has borne the brunt of the criticism. But Mr Reid has been in his post less than a year. Mr Blair has had a leading role in formulating policy on criminal justice since 1997. The present overcrowding did not spring up overnight. It is the result of almost a decade of ill-considered and reactionary policies for which Mr Blair must take primary responsibility.

Worst of all perhaps, Mr Blair's political authority is slipping alarmingly. In the dispute over Catholic adoption agencies Mr Blair was keen to accommodate the Catholic Church. But he did not succeed. Even former loyalists such as Alan Johnson and Lord Falconer were prepared to defy him.

The contest for the deputy leadership has created a new political dynamic. The likes of Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn and Peter Hain are more concerned with winning the support of the Labour Party rank and file than supporting their leader. They know that Mr Blair's political patronage is nearly exhausted.

Humiliatingly, the Prime Minister's personal probity is under question too. The Metropolitan Police's "cash for peerages" investigation shows no sign of fizzling out. Last Friday, Ruth Turner, Mr Blair's "gatekeeper", was arrested and there are fresh allegations of a "hidden" computer network at Downing Street from which emails have been deleted. This shadow extends not just over Mr Blair, but over the entire government. It will continue to do so while he remains Prime Minister.

In this bleak context it is not surprising that some ministers are advising the Prime Minister to announce now that he will leave office after the Scottish elections in May. Yet announcing a timetable would hardly help Mr Blair personally. It would merely accelerate the decline in his authority.

Mr Blair's ambition is to leave on a high note. He is said to be hoping for a deal on Northern Ireland power sharing, evidence of progress in Iraq or perhaps a US commitment to a new international treaty on climate change in the next few months. All are looking unlikely. The reality is that time is not on the Prime Minister's side. Every day he remains in office, his power and standing are diminished. In the rancorous twilight of his premiership, the one sensible move left open to Mr Blair would be to bow out sooner than people expect.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
 

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Robert Fisk
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent