Nearly two years have passed since Tony Blair was forced out of Downing Street by a Labour Party revolt. Blair’s members of parliament concluded that, thanks to his slavish support for George W. Bush on the Iraq War, Tony Blair was no longer capable of leading his party to victory in a general election.
This judgement now looks like an error of historic magnitude. Two years later, it is now clear that Gordon Brown has proven incapable. Labour faces a humiliating rout in tomorrow’s elections for the European Parliament, and disaster in the British general election, which must be held by June 2010 at the latest.
If Tony Blair were still a member of parliament, there is no question that he would be back as prime minister in No. 10 within weeks.
It looks certain that Labour, sans Blair, will be swept out of power. Many believe that the party may never regain it.
Far from being the solution to the midterm blues confronted by Labour two years ago, Brown has proved a catastrophe. His management skills are close to zero. He is reputed to engage in private screaming matches with close colleagues, and occasionally to hurl cutlery around the room.
the British government is paralyzed. Senior generals rail in private at the prime minister for failing to make a decision about the deployment of further British troops in Afghanistan. This week Downing Street has been drawn into an embarrassing controversy about why Queen Elizabeth was not invited for the D-Day commemoration in Normandy, when both President Obama and President Sarkozy will be present.
Erratic, moody, prone to long sulks, Gordon Brown is in danger of going down as the worst prime minister in modern British history. His government is disintegrating around him and morale has collapsed among ministers, MPs, and party activists alike.
Yesterday three ministers announced their intention to resign, including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who has been embroiled in controversy ever since it emerged that she had claimed reimbursement for porn videos at taxpayers' expense. Today another cabinet minister, Hazel Blears, stood down. Meanwhile Gordon Brown faces the task of sacking his chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, who has also been caught out fiddling his expenses.
It looks ever more possible that Gordon Brown himself will lose all authority and be forced out of office over the next few weeks. Whether or not that happens, the British prime minister is a broken man.
Two years after the Blair departure, the real inheritor of the legacy of Tony Blair is not to be found on the Labour benches but in the shape of the leader of the Tory opposition.
It is 42-year-old David Cameron who possesses the slick patter, the winning charm and, above all, the emotional empathy which made Tony Blair such a formidable package at three successive general elections.
As a rising young Tory politician, Cameron studied at the feet of Tony Blair. Senior Blair advisers, such as the Downing Street strategists Ben Wegg-Prosser and Tim Allan, became personal friends.
At one private dinner, Cameron even turned to his companion and declared: 'I am the heir to Blair.' It now looks very likely that Cameron will reassemble the same coalition of middle-class, middle England voters that made Blair such a potent electoral force.
Tony Blair can hardly fail to be flattered by such open adulation from the rising young Tory leader—but he insists in public that he is still hoping that Gordon Brown can secure victory at the next election.
Indeed Blair still speaks to Brown and recently had an hourlong meeting in Downing Street in which he reportedly offered strategic advice to his embattled successor. In private, however, Tony Blair can hardly fail to take some relish from Brown’s collapse.
Though details remain obscure, those close to Blair are convinced that the plot which forced Tony Blair from office was masterminded by Gordon Brown himself. Tony Blair was threatened with mass ministerial resignations unless he quit—and those involved included Gordon Brown’s closest allies.
Today, by a cruel irony, the position is reversed. Now it is Gordon Brown’s ministers who are peeling off one by one in a blatant expression of no confidence.
If Tony Blair were still a member of parliament, there is no question that he would be back as prime minister in No. 10 within weeks. However he stood down from parliament weeks after his removal as prime minister and is therefore ineligible.
Today the most likely challenger from within Labour ranks for the British premiership is Health Secretary Alan Johnson, who is widely liked and known for his strong links to the trade-union movement. Even if Brown falls, Johnson will most likely be an interim prime minister. Blair’s real successor—and the big winner from the destruction of Gordon Brown—sits on the Conservative benches. His name is David Cameron. Barring a miracle, he will be prime minister of a Tory government within months.
Peter Oborne is a political columnist for the Daily Mail. His book, The Triumph of the Political Class, was published in paperback by Simon & Schuster in November 2008.