Media Matter Nick Thomas
It is a week since I wrote of Tony Blair losing control of the national propaganda machine, and nothing much seems to have changed since then. We have another artificial deadline, a new UN resolution tabled. and perhaps two weeks for Saddam Hussein to experience the metanoia that the Amencan and British governments affect to desire of him — and it surely is affectation, for full compliance with the deliberately humiliating demands of the UN would leave him safe and sound where he is, and nobody wants that.
But if he is attacked will he cause Armageddon? If he is removed will his replacement be any better? These are the questions now being asked of Tony Blair. For we now have press commentators openly speculating about his resignation from a position that might become untenable. He is, after all, more or less isolated in his agreement with President Bush that the adventure must proceed even if the French, for example, veto it. Even Charles Clarke, who looks like the sort of bloke most likely to welly in with the chainsaw and ask questions afterwards, has said he will resign as Education Secretary if we go to war without a second resolution. Not that anyone would notice, what with the sirens going off and all the street-corner distribution of gas masks and rationbooks, but it would be a gesture.
Odd, though, that the Fourth Estate suddenly feels obliged, or perhaps permitted, to start banging on about The End of Tony Blair; for there is not the ghost of a chance of the Prime Minister resigning except because he's had enough, and not even that while this crisis is unresolved. If there is a war the Western alliance will win it, and no matter what the cost the dust will settle eventually. Only then might TB decide to spend more time with his family, and retire as the great Labour moderniser and War Leader (for that will be the spin and his own self-image, even if he makes a complete horlicks of it).
Apart from anything else, in order to be forced in to resignation you have to have someone desperate to take on the job instead, and who would want to move into Number 10 in the middle of this mess? The way Blair has handled this business so far, he can either be complicit in needless American thuggery and alienate our European allies in the process, or abandon our closest ally because a lot of people who didn't know what they were talking about decided to march through London. Either way he looks weak and confused, and so would any successor obliged to pick up the pieces.
So all the "Can he survive?" columnage of the last few days amounts to nothing more than the usual quest for something new to say, perhaps with the added spur of some journalists' chums in the Cabinet wanting to put the wind up TB to make him see sense, and other journalists, Labour and Tory, who don't need any chums to encourage them to apply the boot whenever possible.
George Bush, of course, has no such problems. Not only is nobody speculating about his premature departure from office, he also has a public just itching to charge over there and start discharging ordinance, which apparently has been the mood in America these past 18 months. The fact that the connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda would appear to be tenuous in the extreme doesn't seem to matter; the people are still angry, and they're still on their President's side. Sadly for Blair, the British people are more habitually circumspect, and have grown accustomed to question the motives, even the truthfulness, of their politicians. And they also support a press that will happily write his political obituary, just for fun.