The process of the handover from Prime Minister Tony Blair toChancellor Gordon Brown has long been scripted. Act I began with the thrashedlocal elections–Labour lost councils all over the countryand the Scottish National Party became the largest party in theScottish Parliament. Brown wanted Blair to take responsibility for that.
Act II was Blair’s announcement this morning that he will step down June 27. Act III will be Blair’s endorsement of his rival, nemesis and next-doorneighbour, which should take place some time tomorrow. And Act IV willbe Brown’s coronation in the summer.
The fact that it was written so far in advance gives some indication ofhow much the British people have been excluded from the whole process.This is no morality play. The rivalry between the two men has nothingto do with politics and everything to do with personal ambition–thedenouement of a decade of midlife crisis played out on theinternational stage. This morning was the decisive moment because now there can be noturning back.
Blair is the first British leader to leave without having been ousted byhis own party or the voters. In truth, he jumped before he was pushed.Iraq alienated him from his Labour base while a new generation of Toryleader started to win back disaffected Conservatives and woo thecenter. He had become a liability.
But Brown will inherit atarnished crown. The local election results bear witness to adeep-seated disaffection among the electorate. Interest rates are goingup. Iraq is not going away. The electorate want a change in policies.Instead they are getting a change in personnel. The best thing Browncould do is withdraw British troops from Iraq immediately. That wouldestablish a break with the past and be a popular move. It is alsounlikely.
The best thing that the Labour party could do is produce aviable candidate with an alternative, progressive agenda to challengeBrown’s ascendancy. This is also unlikely.
With its democratic leversbroken and what is left of its membership utterly depressed the partyhas become not a place of ideas but an electoral machine–much likethe Democrats.
So the actors change but the narrative trajectoryremains the same–a long-scripted and long-running tragedy.