Stop acting like a soap star, Mr Blair, and start acting like a prime minister again

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The Independent Online

It beggars belief. Tony Blair spends weeks bleating that the media is failing to acknowledge his Government's achievements. When accused of endless spinning, he denies it in tones of outrage, claiming the real spin doctors are in the media. In order to prove the point, he permits a BBC film crew into Downing Street to show us "real" life at the political coalface in an attempt to win sympathy from the voters.

It beggars belief. Tony Blair spends weeks bleating that the media is failing to acknowledge his Government's achievements. When accused of endless spinning, he denies it in tones of outrage, claiming the real spin doctors are in the media. In order to prove the point, he permits a BBC film crew into Downing Street to show us "real" life at the political coalface in an attempt to win sympathy from the voters.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with political salesmanship. There is no point in making a good product if you do not sell it to people. But equally, it is absurd if the advertising department takes the show over, sidelining quality control entirely.

This is where the Government has gone so disastrously wrong. The leaked memo from Mr Blair is important not just because it confirms what we already knew - that spin matters to Downing Street. More importantly, it reveals a mindset where deep-felt beliefs have become almost irrelevant.

A supermarket does not have a view as to whether blueberry or pineapple yoghurt is preferable; they merely sell what people wish to buy. But we hope politicians have a little more commitment, whichever side of the fence they fall.

It is fair to trim the sails in order to be elected; you end up otherwise with a set of policies that party activists adore but which the electorate finds unappealing - as the Labour Party knows to its cost. But Mr Blair's memo reveals that he does not just keep public opinion at the back of his mind; instead, his mind is focused squarely on winning a round of applause for everything he does. He has become like a C-grade celebrity, desperate for headlines in the newspapers and coverage on the television, rather than identifying and sticking to a set of genuine beliefs.

This lack of core belief becomes all the worse when one takes in the detail of the memo. Mr Blair's fear that the Labour Party is "perceived as weak" on gay issues is particularly revealing (and rather sickening). His government's policies on gay issues have indeed been weak - but only because he has failed to stand up for gay equality. Instead, there has been a failure to strike out for what he, and certainly several of his ministers, know to be right, just and fair. Granted, The Sun has run absurd scare editorials about a "gay mafia"; but that is no reason for the Government to run so pathetically scared.

On street crime, too, Mr Blair is revealing when he declares: "We should think now of an initiative." It would be comic, were this not the prime minister's innermost thoughts. Never mind what initiative; anything will do. And, of course: "I should be personally associated with as much of this as possible." Yes, Tony, of course, Tony.

When Mr Blair's press secretary produced a spoof Queen's Speech after the 1997 election saying that "My Government is just hoping that if the style is a bit different, nobody will notice the Substance (Lack of) Bill," everyone presumed he was fooling around. But in the light of this memo, it seems that the cynicism of that in-joke was, if anything, understated.

Yesterday, the Government was clearly determined not to address the problems, focusing its energy on the hunt for the mole at No 10. Clearly, they are worried that their cynicism has been laid bare to the electorate. To quote Education Secretary David Blunkett, "We're all going to have to be a great deal more careful." And then they wonder why voters become jaded.

Mr Blair would do better to concentrate his mind on how to win back the support and goodwill of the electorate that placed so much trust in him and his government at the last election. Forget the obsession with spin, stop acting like a minor soap star desperate for tabloid headlines, and start acting like a prime minister with a set of principles and policies once again.

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