OPINION: Blair's leadership qualities are outstanding

Normally I refuse to read books about New Labour but I confess to

flicking through The Rivals, by Today programme presenter James

Naughtie, which is an account of the relationship between Gordon Brown

and Tony Blair. Unfortunately for Naughtie he wrote the book before

terrorists attacked New York and the declaration of war by Blair and

Bush.



Inevitably such a 'world event' changes political fortunes. We have seen

Bush turn from a bumbling idiot into a Churchillian figure on the basis

of one speech and Blair is clearly in his element. There was an

indication of Blair's feelings towards war in the Naughtie book and I

was fascinated to read that a senior member of Blair's staff said he was

'possessed' by the Kosovo war.



Blair is easily bored and likes nothing more than a challenge. He shines

in a crisis and even his fiercest critics give him praise. I never

thought that I would live to hear my old friend Richard Littlejohn, who

hates Blair more than he hates Arsenal, lend his support but that's

exactly what he did in The Sun last week.



It is often said that to be a successful politician the most important

attribute to have is luck. It seems to me that Blair is a very lucky

politician in that tragic events have always worked in his favour.

Firstly there was the premature death of Labour leader John Smith that

gave Blair the chance to stand for the job that he had always assumed -

indeed promised - would be Brown's.



Another six months of listening to Blair being 'tough on crime and tough

on the causes of crime - a phrase actually invented by Brown - would

have exposed him for the shallow politician he was and made his election

as leader very unlikely.



Blair's next big break came with the car crash in Paris and the death of

Diana. Blair rose to the occasion magnificently. He got out his onions

and acclaimed 'the People's Princess' and left poor old William Hague to

tell a stunned nation that we should name an airport after her.



The tragedy in America is, however, far more significant for Blair.

During the election he spent the whole time admitting that more had to

be done for public services and defending accusations of control

freakery. Despite a historic victory, within weeks a recession looked

likely, putting his spending plans in jeopardy. More than half the

Parliamentary Labour Party rebelled against his diktat on

committees.



All that is now forgotten as Blair shows leadership qualities never seen

before in a Labour Prime Minister. Any economic turndown can be blamed

on terrorists. For the Tories events in America have been a double

disaster. I originally thought that given his good performance in the

Commons, Iain Duncan Smith would enhance his reputation but since then

he has been the invisible man. Unless Parliament is recalled again, it

will soon be a case of Duncan Who?



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