Carry on, Mr Blair

EADT Political Editor Graham Dines speculates that in the wake of London's successful Olympic bid and the terrorist outrages in the capital, Tony Blair may decide to carry on as Prime Minister.

This article first appeared in the EADT on July 12 2005.

EADT Political Editor Graham Dines speculates that in the wake of London's successful Olympic bid and the terrorist outrages in the capital, Tony Blair may decide to carry on as Prime Minister.

IN triumph and adversity, the last seven days have belonged to Tony Blair. His stature, battered by the Iraq war and Labour's poor showing at the General Election, is back to the peak of the immediate months after his 1997 election landslide.

The question of trust, so much a feature of the election campaign, seems to have evaporated.

There will be those, given eloquent voice by Respect MP George Galloway, who blame the London outrages on Mr Blair's unhesitating backing for President George W. Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"There was nothing unpredictable about this morning's attack," Galloway told MPs. "Despicable, yes, but not unpredictable. It was entirely predictable and I predict it will not be the last."

Most Read

But the Prime Minister insists the attacks were not a result of British involvement in the Iraq war. He points out that Russia suffered terrorism with the Beslan school massacre despite its opposition to the war and terrorists had been planning further attacks on Spain even after the pro-war government was removed from office.

He also pointed to the September 11 attacks that took place before the war.

"September 11 happened before Iraq, before Afghanistan, before any of these issues and that was the worst terrorist atrocity of all," he said.

In other words, London commuters were just another in a long list of targets carried out by fundamentalists in the name of Islam.

The agony of Thursday's bombs on the London transport system came less than 24 hours after the ecstasy of London's Olympic triumph, and just days after the Live 8 concerts throughout the UK which demonstrated public support for the need to wipe out the debts of the Third World.

Throughout all this was the presence of the Prime Minister. Is there an active British politician other than Tony Blair who could have lobbied so energetically and wholeheartedly in Singapore for London's Olympic bid, who could have led the nation's response to the bomb blasts, and chaired the G8, championing climate, the environment and debt relief?

In short, no.

In Mr Blair's own words, it was an "extraordinary" week going from the exhilaration of winning the Olympic bid to the "awful sense of tragedy and despair" of the attacks the day after and the important issues of the G8 summit.

Like or loathe Tony Blair - and there is no half-way house - it is difficult to do anything than admire his leadership of the past few days.

Imagine his successor-in-waiting Gordon Brown or any other member of the current Cabinet being able to master the momentous events of last week.

If the Conservatives had won May's General Election, Michael Howard would have been in charge. Given his formidable record as Home Secretary, he would have been a commanding figure in the bombing aftermath.

But embracing the spirit of the Olympics and the cause of African debt relief may have found him wanting.

(I said `active' politician deliberately. I've no doubt that of the ever increasing ranks of the retired, Baroness (Margaret) Thatcher, Sir John Major, Lord (Michael) Heseltine, and Lord (Douglas) Hurd for the Tories, Lord (Roy) Mason and Lord (Denis) Healey for Labour and Lord (David) Owen now of the Liberal Democrats would have been, at the peak of their powers, up to the tasks).

SO what now of Tony Blair's announcement, made at the end of last year's Labour Party conference, that he only intends to serve as Prime Minister for the duration of this Parliament before handing over to a new leader of the Labour Party?

Most commentators and Labour politicians have assumed that, given the logistics of Britain's "election at any time" constitution, Mr Blair will quit some time between the 2006 and 2007 Labour conferences, giving his successor between two and three years to bed himself in before facing the electorate.

The bombings and Britain's Olympics triumph could have changed all that.

Since 9-11, Tony Blair has always spoken of a massive threat to this country. He may be tempted to remain in charge to try to combat it.

And who could blame him for not staying in charge until after 2012, when the spotlight will be on London and he can bask in all the reflected glory?

On May 6 2012, Tony Blair will celebrate his 59th birthday. If his health remains robust, notwithstanding the couple of heart scares of recent years, that is certainly young enough to remain at the helm.

I think Mr Blair has been re-energised by the Olympic project. And if relations between himself and his Chancellor are at rock bottom as everyone is led to believe, would he want Gordon Brown to be in command at the time the Olympic torch lights the flame high above Stratford in the east end of London.

I know this presupposes a Labour election victory. The electorate has to give a judgement on the third Labour term in either 2009 or 2010.

Four years is a long time in politics. The one thing we do know is that there will be a new Tory leader.

The big winner on the Tory side in the wake of the bombings has been David Davis. Conservative MPs have been impressed by the authority he has shown in an otherwise directionless opposition following Mr Howard's decision to resign after the party conference in Blackpool.

I suspect Mr Davis has done enough to be elected leader in the autumn, but whether he will be the next Conservative Prime Minister is more difficult to assess.

He could certainly run a Gordon Brown-led Labour Party very close, but if Mr Blair is still in charge, and he has finally laid the issue of trust to rest, the task of the Tories will be that much harder.

And that mountain could be even harder to climb if the Liberal Democrats remove Charles Kennedy as leader and replace him with someone less inclined to promote "tax `em `till they squeal " policies and champion a more Tory-friendly approach such as the impressive Mark Oaten.

When Mr Blair announced that he did not intend to carry on for ever, there were many inside and outside the Labour Party who predicted he would become a lame duck Prime Minister.

His actions this past week have squashed that. Don't be surprised he leads Labour into the next election.