Tuesday, March 30, 2004
The Strange Death of Blair's Populism

Frank Field, writing in the Independent this week, called upon the Blair administration to call a referendum over the European Constitution as a strategy to start rebuilding a relationship with the electorate based upon 'trust. The alternative was a further deterioration in the public's relationship with the political parties:

In any event it would be a magnanimous move for the PM to give the people the chance to overrule him. It would also show that this is not a fag-end government waiting to hoover up fag-end events, but one still prepared to confront the big issues, even if it has to follow what the voters want.

The Iraqi war and the Hutton Report have emboldened Blair to follow his own course of action without recourse to focus groups or the line of least resistance. One can speculate about the motives behind his 'conviction' politics. Perhaps his own unpopularity has come as a breath of fresh air; or maybe he has set himself one final task before he steps down, of drowning Britain in Europe, and leaving his successor with a well-paid sinecure.

The last few days have revealed more of the political calculation that guides New Labour's actions. In a decided tactical move away from the media charm offensive of their first term, they are now viewing the press in a hostile light and are determined to ride any short-term crisis or scandal that hits the headlines. This is a precursor to the media war that they expect to erupt over the European Constitution and the election. Hence their wish to boost the immune system of government by demonstrating that ministers and ministries are impervious to the howls of the Opposition benchpress. However, the defence of Beverley Hughes has involved the most sensitive arena of political life, immigration, exposing the vicious circle of distrust and arrogance which structures public perception. Secure in a stable economy, an overwhelming majority and a Liberal Democrat party neutered by an unofficial electoral pact, New Labour views these strikes as mere squalls. Public opposition is ignored except where it is championed by Labour MPs themselves, when it threatens the parliamentary hold of Blair.

(22.35, 30th March 2004)


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