There has been a belief that Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and Gordon Brown, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, were rivals for a while - surely Gordon wants the top job? Outside of their close working relationship, the common idea was best summed up by the title of the Naughtie book: The Rivals: The Intimate Story of a Political Marriage.
What is certain is that the recent bout can be said to have started with the showing of a television drama fictionalising the true story. It portrayed Blair as a charismatic but shallow man, out for power, while Brown was the serious, heavyweight thinker. The key scene is in the (now-famous) Granita
restaurant, in which Brown to the party ahead of himself personally, supporting supporting Blair for the leadership with the understanding that he'll become leader... later. When this will be is unclear.
What Blair really brings to the party is electability. His New Labour
is heavily inspired by Clinton's New Democrats,
and he is seen by many as a moderate, managing to gain the grudging support of Murdoch
and thus the country's best-selling newspaper, the tabloid Sun.
Therein lies the seeds of his undoing. At the end of the day, moderates are never as popular as ideologues, because conservatives prefer a conservative, and liberals a liberal. Despite Blair's surprisingly successful attempts to portray himself as a ideological moderate - some talk of him as a Christian Socialist - Murdoch will never
be his friend. For a while now, the Conservtive Party in this country has been divided, fighting amongst itself and eventually choosing as leader those who'll offend no-one - because they have nothing to say. It started even whilst in the government - Prime Minister John Major(The Grey Man) was chosen mainly because the Cabinet wanted to have a voice. He was succeeded by William Hague, who despite some attempts to bring the party into the twentieth century before the start of the twenty-first was an abysmal failure at election-time. Despite being good during Question Time, during which the Leader of the Opposition (and later other MPs) can grill the PM, he wasn't much good elsewhere. And his successor, Iain Duncan Smith, the self-confessed Quiet Man, was even worse - lasting a lousy two years before he too left - to write a thriller about the US President.
And then things started changing - only one man put himself forward to become the new leader, and last week Michael Howard became Her Majesty's Leader of the Opposition. It helps that he is the darling of the Right, beliving in a strong 'Prison Works' line, and locking up as many people as possible.
And of course, supporting President Bush, who is almost viewed as the Ultimate Evil by liberals, and waging war on Iraq against strong protest, didn't really much help Blair with the left. And his ideological convictions seem less appealing when he is being asked if he and Bush prayed together, and he announces that he believes
in the War on Iraq.
Meanwhile, Brown kept very, very quiet. After all, what's the Chancellor of the Exchequer got to do with war? Except from lodging a note of caution about what it'll cost, of course. And then he gives a barnstorming speech at conference about being "Best when we are bold, best when we are Labour" - with nary a New in sight.
Which brings us to last week, when he became a Eurosceptic - an issue which is nonpartisan (and indeed mostly irrelevant, as Hague learned to his cost after trying to run the election on the subject) except to the media. And it's very important to the media indeed - several of the tabloids, and I am not joking here, seriously called for a coup d'etat to stop Blair bringing Britain and Europe any closer together! But Brown is wary of Europe, which is just peachy.
Why, the Sun came out and declared support for Brown's new position while expressing continued concern about Tony's. And what use, after all, is the Left's pet moderate if he can no longer appeal to the Right?
Bush's imminent Tour of the Provinces won't help either - on which subject... no, enough. It's a funny story, actually, but it'll wait.