Leading article: What Blair's triplicate troubles say about Labour

Share

It is often written that Tony Blair has suffered his worst week in power. The observation has been repeated to the point of absurdity. Even so, loyal ministers and Blairite MPs do not play down the seriousness of the disparate crises that have erupted in recent days. Each of the damaging stories is separate and unrelated. Yet together they create an impression of a government that is growing complacent with power.

The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, has still not given an adequate explanation why foreign prisoners were released after he had been alerted to the urgency of the situation. In a way that cannot be underestimated, the errors of Home Office ministers and officials undermine the essence of Mr Blair's political positioning in recent months. With unashamed populism, Mr Blair and his ministers have argued in the local election campaign that Labour is tough on crime compared with weak-kneed liberals in other political parties. Now he faces the prospect of a prolonged run of news stories as various media organisations seek to find foreign murderers and rapists who have been mistakenly released.

The persistent heckling of the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, at the Royal College of Nursing's annual conference is less immediately damaging, but raises thorny questions about how the Government handles this pivotal issue in the months to come. It is a perverse political contortion. The Government has invested huge sums in the NHS, and appointed thousands more nurses, and yet it is regarded with such apparent loathing by some of those who work in hospitals. It is quite something for Labour, of all parties, to have lost control of this issue, given the circumstances. Undoubtedly, Ms Hewitt's weak presentational skills are part of the problem. And if she provokes such anger now, what will happen when the more controversial reforms start to bite?

The revelations about John Prescott's affair are a private matter, but the photographs that have accompanied the stories symbolise the complacency that links the otherwise unrelated crises. In one, Mr Prescott is seen cavorting at a Christmas party. Would he have allowed such a pose to be photographed when Labour was hungry for power in the build-up to the 1997 election? Or is this a government that has become too comfortable with the trappings of power?

Although the crises are serious, the Government is not in meltdown. While politically damaging, the nature of the Home Office crisis has been exaggerated in ways that risk fuelling a dangerous xenophobia. The foreign prisoners who have been released have served their sentences; indeed, it is only because of populist legislation introduced by David Blunkett when Home Secretary that foreign prisoners must be considered for deportation. And the NHS is in need of much deeper surgery, which is likely to incur even more anger from the conservative public sector unions.

The broader political situation means comparisons with the final years of the collapsing Major government do not stand up to scrutiny. From the autumn of 1992 to the election in 1997, Labour enjoyed a commanding lead over John Major's divided administration, and increasingly was perceived as a credible alternative government. While the public has warmed to David Cameron, the evidence from polls indicates that voters are not rushing towards the Tories in great numbers.

The Government still has some political space, but recent events suggest that ministers have lost their touch. Mr Blair has always carried light ideological baggage and chosen instead to project himself as a competent leader. This week, his Government has been exposed on serval fronts as incompetent. Its political space will shrink altogether unless Mr Blair gets a grip.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee