As he has brooded over the Iron Lady’s career, Mr Blair has often declared â€“ at least in private â€“ his determination not to be driven from office as she was. What is so striking is that, for all the energy he has devoted to this strategy, the PM and his acolytes have been overwhelmed by political dynamics they seem unable to control. Precisely what he had hoped to avoid is now coming to pass. The symmetries with November 1990 grow more uncanny by the day.
True, Labour is not consistently 20 points behind in the polls, as the Tories were 16 years ago. There is no domestic policy issue in 2006 to compare with the poll tax in 1990. There is no equivalent of Michael Heseltine poised for attack on the backbenches, Mr Brown having been no less assiduous a student of Tarzan and his mistakes. The procedure for deposing a Labour leader is so complex and so stacked in favour of the incumbent as to be virtually beyond deployment.
Yet â€“ as in 1990 â€“ it is the fears of backbenchers, especially in marginal seats, that is driving the rush towards crisis. There are few species of panic as florid and inconsolable as the panic of an MP who thinks he or she is going to lose his or her seat because the party is stuck with the wrong leader. ~Matthew d’Ancona, The Spectator
Students of political cynicism will recognise that the title is a quote from the opening line of House of Cards, the tale of the Machiavellian adventures of chief whip Francis Urquhart. It is the political cynic’s guiding light in an age of excessive confidence in political leadership. House of Cards was set at the end of the Thatcher era and portrayed how Urquhart, a loyal party functionary, turned against her successor when he was denied promotion and…well, I don’t want to give the whole thing away for those who haven’t seen it. What I wonder is whether Labour will have an Urquhart who will sabotage and try to overthrow Brown once the Chancellor takes over. As Mr. d’Ancona rightly notes, Brown’s tenure may very well become a repeat of the disastrous Major years. Instead of that, Labour may well prefer to have a leader who comes in and puts a bit of stick about–which will mean, if Brown is smart (and he is smart), that the Blairites can look forward to having no influence in the future Government.