The Guardian's headline today tells of how Tony Blair has blocked Gordon Brown's request for a seat on the Labour Party's National Executive Committee. Pro-Blair MPs claim that those who got the seats - some fairly junior MPs - were more appropriate than the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Blair's main rival for the top job. Brownites, however, argue that refusing to give a seat to such a major party figure is both a calculated insult to Brown and a weakening of the NEC itself. Whatever the case, it is a disappointment to Brown as it makes it harder for him to build up the party support he needs for a leadership challenge. But for Blair, this issue is merely one of a number of recent problems.
The Labour Party's National Executive Committee is part of the party's commitment to grassroots democracy - in theory. Most of its members are elected at the annual party conference, with a number of seats being left over for the powerful of the party.
This is not a good time for Blair. Coming in the wake of his recent hospitalisation for heart problems, while at the same time Brown become a father, looks bad for his image - the normally dour and serious Brown smiling and happy, while the charismatic and young leader is having health trouble. Blair's main strength had also been his moderation - he can appeal to both the right and the left. However, he isn't the first choice of either - he is too liberal for the tastes of The Sun and The Mail, and The Guardian and The Mirror would prefer a good old socialist like Brown to helm the party. Up until now, he's been reasonably successful because the Conservatives were too weak and disunited to pose a serious threat. But with the removal of Iain Duncan Smith, the self-proclaimed 'Quiet Man' of British politics, the Tories had an opportunity to change - and it seems reasonably successful. The bulk of MPs quickly throwing their weight behind the somewhat popular(if extremely right-wing, and Thatcherite) Michael Howard, things seem to be changing. It is more the fact that the Tories support him - and that he was never a rebel himself, unlike IDS - than his own credentials, that make Howard a threat. With the threat of the removal of the Murdoch press's support, and Brown seeming more credible everyday, Blair seems to be entering troubled waters indeed.